Oklahoma soldier killed in helicopter attack

Monday, November 3rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Richard Pennanen's own positive experiences as a member of the Air Force led him to encourage his son, Army Sgt. Ross Pennanen, to also have a military career.

"He had listened to his dad talk about how much he had gained from being in the military," Richard's wife, Linda Pennanen, said. "Richard had always encouraged him to do that."

On Monday, Richard Pennanen mourned the death of his son, one of at leat 15 soldiers killed on Sunday when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter transporting them for some rest and recuperation was shot down in Iraq.

Richard Pennanen said he was proud of his son.

"He gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country -- his life," the father said.

Ross Pennanen, 36, of Shawnee, was among six soldiers from Fort Sill who were killed in the helicopter attack, the deadliest for Fort Sill since the Iraqi war began.

Five of the six soldiers have been identified. In addition to Pennanen, they are:

--Staff Sgt. Paul A. Velazquez, 29, of San Diego, assigned to a unit of III Corps Artillery.

--Sgt. Keelan L. Moss, 23, of Houston, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment.

--Staff Sgt. Joe N. Wilson, 30, of Mississippi, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment.

--Sgt. Steven D. Conover, 21, of Wilmington, Ohio. His mother, Lorraine Earley, said he was a specialist in field artillery based at Fort Sill.

Their deaths raise to 15 the number of soldiers from Fort Sill killed in Iraq.

The attack, which also wounded 20 soldiers, was the deadliest single strike against U.S. forces since the invasion of Iraq in March. Six of the injured were also from Fort Sill.

Ross Pennanen and 35 others were being transported in a chopper that was brought down by a shoulder-fired missile near Fallujah, about 35 miles west of Baghdad.

Pennanen, born in Tulsa, joined the Army on Feb. 23, 2001, and arrived at Fort Sill four months later, said Nancy Elliott, a spokeswoman at Fort Sill.

Pennanen was deployed to Iraq on April 12 and was assigned to a self-propelled howitzer attached to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment.

Pennanen's biological mother, Erma Pennanen of Ada, told The Oklahoman her son was a field chief of a Paladin, a self-propelled howitzer.

Although he joined the Army when he was 34, Pennanen "was very gung-ho" and physically fit from studying the martial arts, Pennanen's stepbrother, Brent Shreck, said.

"He was always spit-and-polish and had his uniform shoes shined," Shreck said.

"He was well-liked by his comrades," Erma Pennanen said.

Shreck said Pennanen saw enlisting in the military as a way to invest in his future.

"At the time that he enlisted he was going to school. He figured this would be a way to pay for school," he said. "He saw it as a way to improve his life, improve himself."

Pennanen wanted to be assigned to Fort Sill in southwestern Oklahoma to stay close to his son, 7-year-old Gage, who lives with his former wife in Shawnee, Shreck said.