Six helmets, six rifles, six pairs of buff-colored combat boots, six framed photographs. They proclaimed the memory of six soldiers who died last month in Iraq.
All were members of the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division
the only Fort Lewis infantry unit that remains in Iraq after its sister brigade returned home in recent weeks. All of the men were in their 20s. Five were from the same battalion. Three were killed in the same explosion.
Family, friends, fellow soldiers and other members of the Fort Lewis family came together to honor the six Wednesday afternoon at the Main Post Chapel. The fallen include:
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who were fatally wounded together when a roadside bomb went off near their patrol in Muqdadiyah, about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad.
who died two days later in the same city, also a victim of an improvised explosive.
who died of wounds sustained in a non-combat related accident.
•Cpl. Graham M. McMahon,
who died of a non-combat related illness.
News this week of lower death tolls among U.S. soldiers last month in Iraq seemed distant and irrelevant inside the chapel, where both the stoic and the tearful faced the reality of war.
Maj. Chad Sundem, 4th Brigade rear detachment commander, said he was driving home recently and found himself crying like he had as a 6-year-old at his grandmother's funeral.
He was struck by having no answers as to why these men should die so young.
Wednesday was his 10th time, he said, holding a service for a total of 27 "national treasures ... all them wonderful friends, sons, brothers, fathers
He said he knows that each death "rips at our souls," which is why the brigade has no option but to give each a perfect memorial service.
"They deserve no less," Sundem said. "These six men were our brothers."
Using a crutch for support, Sgt. Christopher Bagwell came forward to praise Olson and Valentine, men who were part of his team.
"I was lucky to serve with them ... I could count on them," he said. "The loss of these two men is a great tragedy; to forget them is worse.
"I love both of you and I always will. We all will."
Cpl. Kevin Marcucci said the five fallen soldiers in his battalion
the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment
all met the definition of a hero and were men who took the path less traveled. "A hero need not speak; the world will speak for them," he said, quoting a promotional line from the "Halo" video game series.
The nearly 4,000 soldiers of 4th Brigade have about nine months left in their scheduled 15-month combat deployment.