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Pain, honor remain six years after Auburn National Guard sergeant’s death in Iraq

Sgt. Arnold Duplantier II remembered with monument at Gold Country Fairgrounds armory
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - A sergeant with Auburn’s Charlie “Rock” Company, Sgt. Arnold Duplantier II was the 12th California Guardsman killed in Iraq and its first fatal casualty from the area. The 184th Infantry Battalion, based at the National Guard Armory at the Gold Country Fairgrounds held a ceremony last June and dedicated the building in Duplantier’s name. Duplantier’s photo has been placed on a plaque in bas-relief along with a description of a soldier who was killed by a sniper’s bullet on June 22, 2005, while guarding a Baghdad, Iraq hotel where international media stayed. Arnold Duplantier Sr., who raised his son alone from the age of 12, said the honor for Arnold II, with funds raised by Auburn-area veterans groups, was a special one. It was also one that takes him back to a day in late June the elder Duplantier said would be forever engrained in his memory. A Sacramento resident, Duplantier said his son had come home for a two-week leave before returning to Iraq for a second six-month stint. He had joined the National Guard in 1999 and served in Kuwait in 2002. Duplantier Jr. was reactivated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in August 2004. Besides his father and mother, Duplantier left behind a wife and two children. Duplantier Sr. remembered the times the two spent together on that last leave as good ones, renewing the bond between father and son. But, on the day he was to learn his son had died, Duplantier was feeling a sense of emptiness after the young Duplantier had not contacted him on Father’s Day. “It was a Thursday,” Duplantier said. “I stopped in at a pub and had a beer and felt kind of lonely.” Word that his son had died came in a phone call from a friend. Duplantier’s mind was flooded with grief and disbelief. He hung up. The friend called and he hung up again. “I was in shock,” Duplantier said. “But I remember riding my bike to my mom’s house. I didn’t ride that bike again for three years.” Sgt. Duplantier, who had just celebrated his 26th birthday, was buried in Mt. Vernon Cemetery in Fair Oaks. His grieving father watched in amazement as Highway 50 cleared for the funeral cortege. “I was really honored they would do that for my son,” Duplantier said. On a recent early winter day with the afternoon sun casting warm shadows through the branches of trees near Sgt. Duplantier’s Auburn memorial, his father set to work raking leaves around it. Over the past few weeks, he and friends have repainted the cement in front in an olive color. “The message I’d like to give is to never forget,” Duplantier said. “It helps the parents and gives meaning to what has gone on. And it takes away the emptiness we feel.” Honoring our heroes The Journal is publishing a week-long series to honor those who’ve served and those who gave their lives during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. To read stories, view photos and watch video, visit www.auburnjournal.com. Sunday – How does the community help? A look at what’s available for veterans Monday – A father remembers his son Tuesday – Family keeps soldier at home year-round Wednesday – Wife carries on husband’s memory Thursday – A look at local soldiers who’ve lost their lives Friday – A Gold Star parent keeps traditions alive Sunday – A soldier comes home