Andrew D. Byers was born to serve and to lead.
While attending Clarence High School, he told his friends of his dream to one day attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
When he was accepted, his classmates were impressed. But he was always impressive whether it was as a member of the high school swimming team which won state championships, working on the high school yearbook or attaining high grades in advanced placement classes.
On Thursday, the 30-year-old Army Green Beret captain was killed in a clash with the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.
U.S. Defense Department officials said Byers and Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Ryan A. Gloyer, 34, of Greensville, Pa., had been killed and four others wounded.
The son of former Clarence School Board president David R. Byers, his family in North Carolina had received word late Thursday and by Friday the news of the West Point graduate’s death had spread throughout the Clarence community.
“My son was the commander of a Special Forces HALO team and this was his third deployment,” said David Byers. The team was among the elite High Altitude Low Opening units who often parachute in when carrying out their missions.
Byers was on his third deployment. He was sent to Iraq in 2009, then to Africa as a Green Beret in 2015, and to Afghanistan last June.
“He was scheduled to return in early December,” the father said. “Special Forces was his dream. He was a good kid and grew to be a great man.”
The casualties occurred after the soldiers had arrived by helicopter in Kunduz Province for a clearing operation with the Afghan military. After they disembarked from the helicopter, they came under enemy fire, Byers’ relatives were told by the military. More than two dozen civilians were also killed in the joint operation.
Lauren Byers, the twin sister of Andrew, said her brother was devoted to military service.
"I read the NATO report and they were trying to make the area safer," she said of the deadly encounter.
Recalling happier times, she said, “Andrew was a great guy and everybody loved being around him. He lifted others who were around him. He wanted everybody to be the best they could. Before he left in June, he went on a tour of the National Parks. He loved his wife and they loved to travel.”
The 2004 Clarence High School graduate had married the former Clare M. Crites, a year after he graduated 12th in his class of 972 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His wife had graduated with honors from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., David Byers said.
The couple, who did not have children, lived in the Colorado Springs, Colo., area near Fort Carson, where he was assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group. Clare Byers was no longer in the Navy, relatives said.
“My brother and sister and I said frequently how lucky we were to grow up in Buffalo. It’s an amazing community and it helped us to become involved in our communities like my brother who went into public service,” Lauren Byers said.
Her parents moved in 2008 to North Carolina after she and her older sister, Lindsay, completed college.
And though they moved, the family is still highly regarded in Clarence.
“We plan to lower the flag to half staff at Town Hall once we receive notification from the governor,” said Clarence Town Supervisor Patrick Casilio, whose family has been friends with the Byers for years. “I can’t emphasize enough what an all-American kid Andrew was growing up.”
The supervisor said he was informed that Byers had offered his mother, Rosemarie, assurances that he would do his best to stay safe.
“Among his last words to his mother were, ‘I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I promise to wear my helmet,’ ” Casilio said.
Byers was known as a leader since his boyhood.
“He was such a role model from the day I met him as a young kid. He had a reputation of being the nicest guy in the world,” said Chrissy Casilio Bluhm, daughter of the town supervisor. “He was big on the high school swim team, the student council and sports editor at the yearbook where his twin sister Lauren was the editor-in-chief.”
David Byers said the high school swim team was undefeated the four years his son was a member and had won state championships.
When Byers was accepted into the military academy, Casilio Bluhm said classmates were impressed.
“He always had his eye on West Point and it was a really big deal him going to West Point. He was always at the top of the class and in advanced placement classes,” she said.
The Byers family was known for their commitment to Clarence.
David Byers served 12 years on the School Board during a major realignment of the district when the student population was growing at a rapid rate. Family members were also active members at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Clarence, where David Byers was a Eucharistic minister and lector.
“Some remarkable things have been said to me in the past 24 hours and one of them is the verse from Joshua 1:9,” the father said of the biblical passage from the Old Testament prophet exhorting strength and courage. The prophet promises, “…the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
The Byers family has also been contacted by his West Point classmates and active duty friends, who have offered their condolences.
Back here, Casilio Bluhm said his death is hard to comprehend.
“You know the risks when your friends go to war, but you never think it will happen to them. Then all of a sudden war becomes a reality,” Casilio Bluhm said of the shock Byers’ death has caused among his many local friends.
It is believed that Byers is the first person from Clarence to be killed in action in America’s War on Terror, according to the town supervisor, who added that Staff Sgt. Mark A. Spence, 24, of Clarence, had died Nov. 8, 2007, when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter he was aboard crashed near Aviano Air Base in Italy.
Of Byers passing, Casilio said: “Andrew gave his life defending our country.”
A local service in honor of Byers, his father said, is anticipated at some future point.