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Lone survivor of massive bomb in Afghanistan dies in car crash

He was the sole survivor of a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan that killed seven of his comrades and their interpreter. Now, Corporal Roger Scherf, Jr. has also died, the victim of a car accident on an icy highway.

Scherf's family members, including his mother, stepfather, aunt and three of his siblings, make their way through a wrecking yard. In the back, along the fence, is a Ford Focus:

“Oh wow, wow, wow,” his aunt reacts.

The entire driver’s side is smashed. In fact, the driver’s door is almost in the passenger seat. The State Patrol says Scherf hit some black ice on the way to work at the base and was struck broadside by a Chevy Impala.

His brothers and sister, who call him RJ, comb through the car looking for personal belongings. They laugh when they find a Moulin Rouge CD:

“Moulin Rouge is not something his tattooed self would be caught dead blaring out in the car,” says Josh Pfeil.

Josh Pfeil is RJ’s half-brother. It’s not just the CD that surprises him. It’s this decidedly unflashy little sedan:

“It’s just weird to see that he wasn’t driving a motorcycle when in he got into an accident. He was driving a normal car on his way to work. Kind of difficult to grasp,” explains Pfeil.

A Lone Survivor in Afghanistan Attack

What he means is that RJ was pulling his life back together after surviving the un-survivable.

On Oct.27, 2009, Scherf, then 19, was driving a heavily armored Stryker vehicle in Southern Afghanistan when insurgents detonated a massive IED.

Everyone else in the Stryker unit that day - seven fellow soldiers and their Afghan interpreter - were killed. It was the single deadliest incident during the 5th Stryker Brigade’s year long deployment to Afghanistan. RJ was the only one to survive, but his step-father Don Marshall says he was badly injured:

“All of his teeth in his mouth were either fractured or shattered, his tongue was lacerated in four pieces,” says Marshall.

The list goes on.

There were also invisible wounds. Chiefly a brain injury from the blast. Scherf was sent to Germany, and his mother, Lori Marshall, says he spent six months at Walter Reed Army Hospital:

“And that was dark for him when he came back to Walter Reed without his buddies and with all of his limbs. That was very difficult for him,” says Lori.

Survivor’s guilt. Scherf’s family says there was no way he could not feel it.

RJ's Early Years

Scherf grew up in Saginaw, Mich., in a big blended family. He had attention deficit disorder, but aced the 4th grade state science exam. Marshall breaks down as she remembers her intense little boy taking her face in his hands one day and demanding: I need all of your attention.

“It’s almost like he was saying pay attention because it’s going to go fast,” says Marshall.

When he graduated from high school and wanted to sign up for the infantry, she didn’t stand in the way,

“Because it was his dream from a little boy. He was a soldier,” she explains.

How he survived the roadside bomb his family, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, attribute to what they call “God’s hand”:

“And people say, ‘well look a year and a half later.’ Well, then it was his time to go,” Marshall says.

Memorial Service at JBLM

On the day of his car accident, Scherf had just turned 21. His family says he was planning for the future: a cross-country road trip in his Corvette and college. He parents made it to his bedside before he died. The room was packed with fellow soldiers and friends:

“So I’m just stroking his head and then finally said it’s okay go toward the light, go toward the light. We’re going to be okay without you. Uncle Ricky is going to be there. Grandma and Grandpa. Your buddies will be there,” says his mother.

At a memorial for Cpl. Roger Scherf, Jr., at Joint Base Lewis-McChord he was remembered as “a lot more than a survivor."

“All heart” is how one fellow soldier described him. "He is now with his fellow squad mates," said another.

Correspondent Tom Banse is an Olympia-based reporter with more than three decades of experience covering Washington and Oregon state government, public policy, business and breaking news stories. Most of his career was spent with public radio's Northwest News Network, but now in semi-retirement his work is appearing on other outlets.