WICHITA — Sgt. Eric Nettleton went from jumping from the top of the stairway at home as a youngster to jumping out of airplanes as an adult.
More than 1,000 family and friends remembered Nettleton's life with a mixture of tears and laughter during a funeral Mass this morning to honor the 26-year-old Army soldier from Wichita, who died earlier this month while fighting in Afghanistan.
Ftr. H Setter of All-Saints Catholic Church talked about what Nettleton’s family remembered this week about his inability to slow down and his his penchant for adventure.
Nettleton graduated from leaping off the stairs to worrying his parents on a pair of rollerblades, especially when they learned he’d ventured far from home.
"Eric was one of those peo-ple who from the very beginning of his life followed the motto of go and not stop," Setter said during the service. "He was even in a hurry to be born."
Setter said Jim Nettleton recalled the first time his son hit a home run in a little league baseball game and slid into all four bases.
Nettleton was born in Wichita and attended All Saints Catholic School and Hamilton Middle School be-fore graduating from Wichita West in 2003.
His family also remembered his non-stop sense of "goofball" humor, Setter said.
"While he always had the characteristic of being tough on the outside, he was also a big softy," Setter said.
Setter said that mood could quickly change.
Nettleton called his mother crying and homesick the day after he left to join the 82nd Airborne from Ft. Bragg.
The very next day, Nettleton called back.
“I get to jump out of air-planes,” Setter said his family remembered Nettleton saying.
Nettleton served his first tour of Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne. He called his mother and asked her to pray for him before he lept from a plane, “whether it be 4 o’clock in the afternoon, or 2 in the morning,” Setter said.
Returning to Kansas, Nettleton served in Iraq with the Big Red One — the 1st Infantry Division in Ft. Riley, from which soldiers provided the military honors for today's funeral.
Nettleton married Ashley Reida in 2009 and one month later they went to Germany for his new assignment, as a a member of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in B Troop, 1st Squadron
When that unit returned to Afghanistan, Setter said Nettleton was known for leading his troops in the Prayer of St. Michael before they went on patrol.
Nettleton was killed Jan. 5 while on foot patrol after an improvised explosive device detonated.
"He died doing what he loved best -- serving his country," Setter said. "He will always be known as a hero, both personally and nationally."
Nettleton was buried with military honors at Ascension Cemetery in Bel Aire.