Fort Lewis Memorializes Fallen Soldiers from Iraq War
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JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the Iraq war impact on an Army base in Washington state. NewsHour correspondent Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.
LEE HOCHBERG, NewsHour Correspondent: Last month was the deadliest month of the war for Washington state’s Fort Lewis, the nation’s third-largest Army post. Twenty soldiers from the post lost their lives in Iraq. In June, there have already been 13 more deaths, 30 percent of all the U.S. military deaths in Iraq this month.
More than 10,000 of Fort Lewis’ 28,000 soldiers are in Iraq. Many of the casualties are from its Stryker brigades that patrol in frontline operations in and around Baghdad. In the space of nine days, the Fort Lewis field house hosted a numbing series of memorials, fellow brigade members eulogizing the dead.
It’s become a challenge to adequately honor so many fallen soldiers. A June 5th service for four members of the Fourth Stryker Brigade; another on June 7th for a member of the Third Stryker Brigade; a June 12th memorial for three more soldiers of the Fourth brigade; then, Thursday, a wrenching service for what originally was going to be three fallen members of the Third brigade, but grew to nine.
MAJ. KYLE MARSH, U.S. Army: Although we’ve assembled far more often than any of us desire, I want to thank each of you for taking the time to pause, reflect and to honor this team of Arrowhead heroes.
LEE HOCHBERG: Photographs of the nine, together with the ritualistic empty boots and helmet and dog tags stretched across the stage. Corporal Romel Catalan, from Los Angeles, a 21-year-old Stryker driver, killed in Baghdad when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He joined the Army as a high school senior.
MAJ. JAMES BLANTON, U.S. Army: Why did this have to happen to such a young warrior? I know I cannot bring him back. Mr. and Mrs. Catalan, on behalf of the Tomahawks, we are truly sorry.
LEE HOCHBERG: Sergeant Andrew Higgins, from Hayward, California, 28 years old, the only child of an only child, the end of his family line, killed by insurgents near the Sunni enclave of Baquba, Iraq. Higgins had planned to leave the Army after this, his third combat tour.
Specialist Chadrick Domino, from Longview, Texas, 23 years old, killed in Baghdad by small-arms fire while on dismounted patrol, promoted to sergeant, posthumously.
Staff Sergeant Brian Long of Wyoming, 32 years old, killed in a Baghdad explosion. On his second deployment to Iraq, he was scheduled to have returned home, but his tour was extended. Survived by his wife, two daughters and a son, aged nine, three, and one.
CAPT. JAMES HARBRIDGE, U.S. Army: He missed his children so much. Brian was really looking forward to getting back, back here, and ultimately back to Wyoming. Spending his time with his family and really getting to know them again was really what he was waiting for when he got home.
Four killed on patrol
LEE HOCHBERG: There were four soldiers killed when an explosive blew apart their Humvee on dawn patrol in Baghdad. Sergeant James Akin, from Albuquerque, a 23-year-old who wanted to run for president someday, he'd enlisted so he could speak with the experience of a war veteran.
Sergeant Tyler Kritz, from Eagle River, Wisconsin, 21 years old, on his second tour of duty, known for playing his bass guitar.
Sergeant Robert Surber from Inverness, Florida, 24 years old, a cannon crew member on his second Iraq deployment. Eulogized by his family as a thoughtful man, he was to have returned home in May, but his tour was extended.
Staff Sergeant Greg Gagarin, from Los Angeles, 38 years old. On his second deployment to Iraq, Gagarin served in the U.S. military for close to 20 years.
And 20-year-old Private Scott Miller, from Casper, Wyoming. A burly young rifleman, he was killed on foot patrol in Baquba, 30 miles outside Baghdad. His father, mother and four family members flew to Washington state for the service and remembered him as a teddy bear of a man.
BOB MILLER, Father of Fallen Soldier: He's the kind of guy who was just -- I think he wanted to take care of people. Maybe that's why he went in the Army. I don't know, thought he could take care of all of us. I don't know. He was a good young man.
LEE HOCHBERG: His father, Bob Miller, said his son had always wanted to be a soldier.
BOB MILLER: From about five or six years old, he came to his mom and said, you know, he was going to join the Army someday. I don't know if it was something that he saw or TV or something that he liked to play or what he liked to do, but that's what he told his mom: He was going to be in the Army.
SOLDIER: Private Miller. Private Scott Miller.
A final roll call
LEE HOCHBERG: As his son's name was called to no response, in the Army's haunting final roll call for its dead, Bob Miller was hoping it's all a bad dream.
SOLDIER: Private Scott Alan Miller.
BOB MILLER: The roll call was -- that was probably the biggest thing. When they call their name three times, and they don't answer, we keep hoping, obviously, that somewhere they made a mistake or something. But you know they didn't.
LEE HOCHBERG: Because of the rising death toll and because brigade members left behind have had to do all of the organizing -- everything from inviting families, getting speakers, gathering photos, and alerting the military community -- Fort Lewis had planned to shift to once-a-month memorial services. But that proposal upset some members of the community, so last week the post said memorials will be held as often as needed for now.
Only two families made the long trip to Fort Lewis, but Bob Miller says being around the bereaved post community only five days after his son's death helped him in a tragic way.
BOB MILLER: I couldn't imagine having not been here today, just the total support from everybody in there, more than one, unfortunately. There wasn't any one part of that I would change, other than that there weren't nine.
LEE HOCHBERG: The post has another service slated for at least two soldiers for June 26th and the ceremonies for two other soldiers still to be arranged.