ET soldier killed in Afghanistan

Lillard had put life on hold for second enlistment in Army

Specialist Nathan Edward Lillard, 26, of East Tennessee, died on Nov. 14, 2010, while conducting operations in Watahpur district, Konar province, Afghanistan. Friends said Nathan Lillard put his life on hold for a second turn at military service.

"He'd been in once before, and he always talked about going back," said Derrick Rubush, a former Knox County co-worker. "He never actually went overseas the first time, and he was pretty adamant about wanting to go. He stayed single, because he said he didn't feel right getting married before he went over there."

Lillard gave his life in that service this week. The 26-year-old Army specialist and East Tennessee native died Sunday in a shootout with rebel forces in the Watahpur district of Afghanistan's Kunar province, according to the Department of Defense.

Four other soldiers died in the attack, all serving with the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Brigade Combat Team.

Lillard grew up in Southeast Tennessee's McMinn County but spent his junior and senior years at Lenoir City High School, where he graduated in 2003, Principal Steve Millsaps said. His death made him the school's first graduate killed in the Afghan conflict, the principal said.

Friends said Lillard had talked of a military career even a teenager. His former teachers remember him as a big, burly boy, quick with a smile, who loved to work with his hands.

"Whenever somebody mentions Nathan, I think of a huge guy like a teddy bear," said David Widby, who taught Lillard in graphic design. "He was an excellent kid, very respectful and soft-spoken. He was a mechanically inclined, hands-on student, really more interested in building and working with machines than in computers. He joined the military while he was still in school. He didn't say a lot, but he did say he wanted to serve his country, even in high school."

Lillard later lived in Knoxville and worked in the warehouse at Modern Supply on Lovell Road. He left to rejoin the Army and finish what he'd begun, friends said.

"If you met him once, you wouldn't forget him," said Rubush, who met Lillard on the job five years ago. "He made it so much easier to come to work, because he always made everybody else smile."

Lillard re-enlisted in November 2006 and arrived at Fort Campbell, Ky., in August 2009. He stayed in touch with friends and family through Facebook and came home on leave this spring.

"It was like he'd never left," Rubush said. "He was like he'd always been. He didn't really talk much about what was going on over there, but he was never negative."

Word of Lillard's death began spreading Monday night. A plane returned his body Tuesday to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Lillard's mother, Helen Hyatt of Athens, Tenn., had gone to claim the body Wednesday. Funeral arrangements remained incomplete.

Sunday's attack also killed:

Spc. Shane H. Ahmed, 31, of Chesterfield, Mich.

Spc. Scott T. Nagorski, 27, of Greenfield, Wis.

Spc. Jesse A. Snow, 25, of Fairborn, Ohio

Pfc. Christian M. Warriner, 19, of Mills River, N.C.

Soldiers carry the transfer case Tuesday with the body of Army Spc. Nathan E. Lillard of Lenoir City. Lillard was killed Sunday in Afghanistan.
Soldiers carry the transfer case Tuesday with the body of Army Spc. Nathan E. Lillard of Lenoir City. Lillard was killed Sunday in Afghanistan.

East Tennessee soldier killed in Afghanistan

The Department of Defense announced that Army Spc. Nathan E. Lillard was killed in Afghanistan while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- U. S. Army Specialist Nathan Lillard's flag draped coffin arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Deleware late Tuesday. Fellow soldiers took his remains to an area where his mother waited.

"She went to get the body to bring it back home," said his aunt, Faye Hawkins.


Lillard graduated in 2003 from Lenoir City High School. A former teacher shared fond memories of the kid he called a gentle giant.

"Nathan was an excellent student. Never a disciplinary problem," said his former teacher, David Whidby.

Lillard's aunt told Volunteer TV by phone the entire family is heartbroken over his death, which comes on the heels of another family tragedy. "His daddy died not too long ago," said Hawkins.

Back at school, Lillard's teachers remember his lifelong goal was to join the military. "He had even expressed that he would like to make a military career," said Whidby.

Lillard is the second Lenoir City High graduate killed in Afghanistan since 2006. His death is a constant reminder of the sacrifices by our soldiers.

"When one of them gives the ultimate sacrifice you just run out of gratitude that you can express with words," said Whidby.

Friends remember East Tennessee soldier who died in Afghanistan

A soldier from east Tennessee has died in Afghanistan.

The Department of Defense says announced Wednesday that Army Spc. Nathan E. Lillard, 26, of Knoxville, was one of five soldiers killed November 14 in Kunar province, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked their unit with small arms fire. 

They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.

The Associated Press provided a photo of an Army team carrying the transfer case containing the remains of Spc. Lillard.  The photo was taken at Dover Air Force Base on Tuesday.

Lillard was a 2003 graduate of Lenoir City High School.

10News spoke with Greg Tipton, a friend of Lillard. 

"I remember him as just so easy to get to get to know. his personality was wonderful, always excited. He was the, didn't matter what you asked him to do, he would say 'Yeah, we'll get it done.'  He was just that type, very hard worker, would do anything to help you, anything you needed," said Tipton. 

"Jovial is a good word. He was always smiling and happy, just liked to kid around and have a lot of fun at work," said Tipton. 

Tipton says he worked with Lillard at Modern Supply Company in west Knoxville.  He says Lillard worked there before beginning a second stint in the Army. 

Tipton says he would take his son to work and the boy got to know Lillard. "My son was five at the time and I explained he was going into the Army.  We'd always pray at night and if I would forget he would say, 'Dad, don't forget Nathan!' So, just his personality, my son thought the world of him. That's just the way Nathan was." 

"Lost my best friend," said Rusty Youell, who also met Lillard when they worked together. 

Youell said Lillard gave 110 percent as a soldier.  "He was awesome.  He'd give you the shirt off his back if he could.  He wanted to fight so bad for our freedom and that's all he talked about," Youell told 10News.

The two last communicated via Facebook on Thursday. "Friday I sent him a message and he didn't respond.  Then Saturday and Sunday he didn't respond, which was very unusual.  Then his mother called me and that's when I found out," Youell said.

Lillard's former teacher at Lenoir City High School, David Widby called Lillard a polite, yet quite, young man.

"Nathan was one of those that will need to defend the freedom here in America and he wanted to do that since he was in high school," Widby said. "He gave the gave the ultimate sacrifice and I appriciate that."