Family, Friends Mourn Fallen Soldier

David Roustum Was First UB Student To Die In Iraq

On December 1, 2004

  • David Roustum. Image Contributor

It didn't matter to David Roustum that he was in his senior year of college, or that he was only months away from earning his degree. His country called, and that was it. Roustum was off to Baghdad.

That was in the fall of 2003, and it was last time Spc. Roustum would set foot at UB as a student. Three weeks ago, the 22-year-old accounting major was killed in action in Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his regiment's Humvee in Baghdad, according to family members.

Two other soldiers suffered non-fatal wounds in the same attack. All three men were members of the 108th Army National Guard Infantry Regiment.

"It wasn't a mine that got their vehicle," said Roustum's brother, Daniel Roustum. "David died in full-fledged combat protecting the guys he was with. If he was going to die for his country, that's how he would have wanted to go, protecting the guys that he cared about the most."

A local student from West Seneca, Roustum enlisted in the army during his senior year at Orchard Park High School and went to Fort Benning, Ga., for basic training two days after his graduation. Following the news of his death, Orchard Park High School held a moment of silence for the fallen student and soldier.

When Roustum was called to active duty, his Syrian-born father offered his son a chance to avoid combat in Iraq by going instead to Syria, but the UB student turned the offer down.

"Dave didn't join the army for money. He thought it was the right thing to do," Daniel Roustum said. "Freedom is not taken lightly in this family. It's something you fight for. Dave wanted to be involved in that, and he was very actively involved in the military."

According to his brother, Roustum was a member of the Honor Guard and was one of the few soldiers in New York who was authorized to participate in military funerals.

"When he wasn't in class, he was traveling all over the state to participate in military funerals," Daniel said.

Sujan Vyas, a senior finance major at UB, attended high school with Roustum and had been friends with him since ninth grade. Vyas said he remembers Roustum as a cheerful person who was continually encouraging those around him to succeed.

"On a horrible day, he'd be sure to cheer you up," Vyas said. "Dave was a year ahead of me, and we went to Buffalo State together and he helped me with the transfer process, constantly pointing me in the right direction. We even went to orientation together at UB."

Vyas said Roustum was a constant source of motivation and encouragement.

"When I tried out for football in high school, Dave was the quarterback and he just motivated me. We worked out together and he always pushed me to do better," he said.

Mark DeJames, a junior communication major, was also a high school friend of Roustum who lived near the family and played with David on the high school hockey team.

"He was a really cool kid, the life of the party. He was a prankster, but he could be serious when necessary," DeJames said. "He was a great leader on the ice. When he stepped up, people listened to him."

Vyas called Roustum "the son of Orchard Park." Both of his old friends said when they first heard he had been killed in combat, the news came as a shock.

"I was stunned," DeJames said. "You don't expect to hear that. I saw a weird number on the caller ID and just got this gut feeling that it was bad news. It's tragic that this happened right around the holidays, too."

According to Dennis Black, vice president for Student Affairs, the university has been in touch with the Roustum family since the news broke about his death over a week ago.

Black said that UB officials are planning a memorial to Roustum.

"There will be a UB memorial program and some type of lasting memorial here on campus, but not until after the Defense Department returns him home to his family for burial," Black stated in an email. "There is no schedule for that yet. That could put us into early next semester."

Daniel Roustum said he believed his brother did not die in vain.

"Everybody was concerned when he was sent to Iraq, but we are extremely proud of what he's done," he said. "This was his destiny. You can't stop a man from becoming what he's destined to be, you have to trust him and get out of his way. We're all at a loss, we lost such an amazing person. But I had the honor of sharing my last name for 22 years with the bravest man I know."

"Bravery isn't something you learn, it's something you're born with," he added. "And that was David."

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