7 fallen Stryker Brigade soldiers honored at Fort Lewis
Vice President Joseph Biden flew in to speak at the sad occasion because it marked something different: This was the largest number of Fort Lewis-based soldiers killed at one time in recent memory, said Army spokesman Joseph Piek.
Seattle Times staff reporter
It's a ritual that's become all too common at Fort Lewis: Another memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers.
Vice President Joseph Biden flew in to speak at the sad occasion because it marked something different: This was the largest number of Fort Lewis-based soldiers killed at one time in recent memory, said Army spokesman Joseph Piek. Since 2003, 237 soldiers from Fort Lewis have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These seven Stryker Brigade soldiers were killed Oct. 27 in Afghanistan when their vehicle exploded after being struck by an improvised-explosive device.
On this gray, rainy Tuesday afternoon, the North Fort Chapel filled up with more than 500 soldiers in their fatigues and a handful of family members.
Biden spoke in a somber, hushed voice.
"Someday, God willing, there will be some consolation you'll find in the knowledge that your son, your husband, your brother, your father, gave his life in the pursuit of the noblest of all earthly goals, defending his family, defending his country, defending and fighting for what he believed in,... " he said.
"As a nation, as hollow as it sounds to say, we grieve with you. We don't have the profound sense of grief you're experiencing today, but we grieve with you, and we owe you. We owe you more than you can ever be repaid."
Only one of the soldiers, Pfc. Ian Walz, 25, of Vancouver, Wash., was from this area. The rest had families spread across the country.
At the front of the chapel, the ritual included a line of seven M-16 A2 rifles, dogs tags hanging from them, helmets atop and boots below.
At their left were framed color photographs of the soldiers: Staff Sgt. Luis M. Gonzalez, of South Ozone Park, N.Y.; Sgt. Fernando Delarosa, of Alamo, Texas; Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, of Terre Haute, Ind.; Sgt. Issac B. Jackson, of Plattsburg, Mo.; Sgt. Patrick O. Williamson, of Broussard, La.; Spc. Jared D. Stanker, of Evergreen Park, Ill.; and Walz.
At the wings waited two bag pipers, who'd later play "Amazing Grace."
The program given out at the ceremony told a bit about each soldier, all members of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
They ranged in ages from 22 to 27. Two of them had children. They all had received numerous awards for valor.
At the ceremony, Fort Lewis-based soldiers read tributes from other soldiers who couldn't attend, but had known the fallen. One of the soldiers giving a reading couldn't help but choke up, even though he had not know the Stryker soldier he was honoring.
The tributes told of good times hiking or having beers together, "chillin'," and long discussions about matters such as "what it would be like if the Beatles and Zeppelin recorded together."
About Williamson, a tribute from Staff Sgt. Matthew Sanders was read:
"I do not want this tribute to sound like a somber eulogy. Like the man it pays homage to, it should fill our hearts with happiness and memories of the crazy, ridiculous, silly, but always fun time we shared," it said, in part.
"To me, his first squad leader, Patrick Williamson was the Swamp Rat, Ichabod Crane, Cankles, Conrad's hetero life partner, or any number of other names I used to bust his chops. ... Our countless hours in the back of a Stryker, spent talking about what at the time seemed like nothing, taught me about myself and my squad, my family. This is Pat's legacy to me."
In some of the tributes, quotes were read from such cultural icons as Bob Marley, Hunter S. Thompson and John Lennon.
From Lennon it was, " ... and in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make."
From Thompson, the gonzo journalist, the quote read was, "The Edge. There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over."
The ceremony ended with two more rituals.
First, a soldier stood in the aisle and three times called out the names of the fallen soldiers, awaiting an answer; first by rank and last name; then rank and first and last name; finally by rank, first, middle and last name.
After silence greeted the calls, a live video feed was shown in the chapel. Three volleys were fired and taps played.
Then the families and the soldiers filed out, until the next time.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or email@example.com
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.