Citizen Soldiers: A Tribute to the Army National Guard
The National Guard the oldest component of the U.S. Armed Forces and one of the nation's longest enduring institutions celebrates its 370th birthday in 2006. An elite group of warriors, the Guard traces its lineage to the earliest North American colonies, which drew on English military traditions to organize citizen militias.
Today's National Guard continues its historic dual mission, providing the states with units trained and equipped to protect life and property and the nation with forces ready to defend our country and its interests around the world. The Guard's unprecedented level of involvement in Iraq far greater than the mobilization of both World Wars has hit towns hard all over America, with losses that resonate throughout communities.
The 2006 “National Memorial Day Concert” on PBS will pay special tribute to the "citizen soldiers" serving in the National Guard, and recognize the impact that their service and sacrifice has had on their families at home.
Click on the links below to read and share National Guard stories.
There were parades, speeches and going away parties before Houma, Louisiana's National Guard Unit, the "Black Sheep", left for Iraq. The high school band performed, local government officials handed out American flags and residents and businesses did their best to say goodbye to their citizen soldiers. Three months later, in January 2005, six of the men returned in flag-draped coffins following the worst single combat incident for the National Guard in Iraq and the members of this small south Louisiana community came together once again to give each other support and grieve for their hometown heroes.
This year's concert will feature a dramatic reading by Academy Award winning actress Dianne Wiest that relates the story of the Black Sheep through the eyes and experience of Ann Comeaux the mother of Sgt. Kurt Comeaux, one of the fallen soldiers who grieves not only for her son, but for those who died with him. She explains
"The guys who were with my son are part of my life now and I want to make sure that they and the soldiers still serving are not forgotten."
Now a member of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Purple Heart Society, the American Veterans League and Blue Star Mothers, Ann Comeaux says, "I'm representing my son, and I know what these other families are going through I want to let people know that they're not alone."
Away from their families and facing peril together, the soldiers from the Black Sheep became a band of brothers. On the day of the tragic attack, two Bradley fighting vehicles were on patrol in a rural area near the village of Taji. Sgt. James Scaruffi's vehicle was following closely behind the Bradley, vehicle carrying his six comrades when he saw the explosion.
"My first thought was that it had disintegrated. The explosion was so strong, it actually lifted the Bradley up in the air and moved it about 150 feet. It landed upside down in an irrigation canal, and it was still burning" All those inside were dead.
Sgt. Scaruffi was devastated, but there was no time to grieve; two days later, he was back on patrol. But once he came home, the images returned.
"I don't want to talk about it," he says, "but I guess I have to, 'cause I was there. Somebody like me has to come forward and tell their story."
That story will be told at this year's concert in Sgt. Scaruffi's own words in a moving recitation by acclaimed actor Gary Sinise.
Six members of the Louisiana National Guard's Houma-based Charlie Company (also known as the "Black Sheep") lost their lives when a bomb exploded under their Bradley fighting vehicle on January 6, 2005.
Staff Sgt. Chris Babin, 27, grew up near the National Guard Barracks in Houma and used to go there after school to do his homework. He was a National Guard Recruiting Officer and a cement truck driver. He left his wife and a nine-month old son.
Sgt. Bradley Bergeron, 25, of Chauvin, was a heating and air conditioning technician. He was about to become engaged.
Sgt. Warren Murphy, 29, of Marrero, served for 10 years, including a stint as a UN peacekeeper in Macedonia. He was a tugboat deckhand on the Mississippi with plans to become a Captain.
Sgt. Armand "Luke" Frickey, 21, of Houma, was a newlywed. He made his living in the restaurant business.
Sgt. Huey Fassbender, 24, of LaPlace, was a six-year Army veteran who joined the National Guard because he felt his experience in Saudi Arabia would be an asset to his unit.
Sgt. 1st Class Kurt Comeaux, 34, of Raceland, was a probation and parole officer. He left his wife and three sons.
Also lost in that explosion was Sgt. Kenneth vonRonn, 20, a medic and fellow Guardsman from New York.
In the months following the horrible January 5th incident, two more Charlie Company soldiers from the Houma area also tragically lost their lives.
Paul M. Heltzel was a 20-year Army veteran who had recently joined the Louisiana National Guard and had been named Enlisted Soldier of the Year. He was killed by a car bomb on March 15, 2005. He is survived by his wife.
Peter J. Hahn was killed May 24, 2005 by enemy fire in Baghdad. Peter had plans to become an investment banker after his military service concluded. He is survived by his wife and six-year-old daughter.
When a service member is lost, the pain and suffering can be overwhelming for the families. But they are not alone. Although each story is unique, there are common experiences and feelings that connect the wives and other family members of the fallen as they learn to cope with their loss and to be a source of strength for themselves and others.
Here are some organizations that can help, through peer support, grief counseling referrals, youth programs and many other caring resources
To Learn More
The Army National Guard website features information about the Guard's mission, history and leaders. You'll also find personal stories of soldiers who served in the Guard, resources for National Guard families, up-to-date news items and links to publications and to the National Guard Recruiting website.
For Ann Comeaux, James Scaruffi and others, talking about the loss of a loved one on the battlefield is difficult and painful. Yet sharing these experiences can also have a powerful healing affect. The Sharing Your Stories section of this website can help you get started.
Each service member's story is a part of our nation's history and needs to be told and retold and remembered. We invite you to use the Submit A Eulogy space on this website to share the story of a spouse, a child, a parent, another relative or a friend who died in one of America's conflicts. You can contribute a eulogy, a remembrance or a prayer in their honor, or share your own story of grief over the loss of a loved one.