FORT LEWIS - The Army post began its new year on a somber note Thursday, eulogizing three of its soldiers killed in a helicopter crash during a training exercise last month.
"All three of these men were perfect soldiers," said Capt. Ricky Thomas, commander of the Darkhorse Troop, 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment.
Chief Warrant Officers Patrick J. Paige and James E. Whitehead and Sgt. Thomas L. Clarkston were killed when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed on a mountainside near Enumclaw on the night of Dec. 21.
The Army continues to investigate the cause of the crash.
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A witness told The News-Tribune of Tacoma that he saw the helicopter hit a tree, then crash.
The three were remembered during a memorial at a Fort Lewis gymnasium as dedicated family men who sacrificed personal time to ensure they were trained and ready for their mission.
Chief Warrant Officer Alan Moore said that Whitehead, 33, led prayers during gatherings of his fellow troopers and was unfailingly polite.
"His smile was intoxicating," he said.
Moore recalled that a week before the crash, the two sat down for breakfast at Fort Rucker, Ala., where they were training. Moore bought breakfast for three young Marines upon learning that they were headed to a funeral for a young comrade, he said.
Whitehead is survived by his wife, Tori, and a son.
Paige, 32, leaves a legacy of love, compassion, quality and pride, Chief Warrant Officer Michael Risher said.
"Pat was a diamond in the rough, but he was quickly polishing up nicely," he said.
Paige leaves behind his wife, Yolanda, and two children.
Spc. Josh Price remembered Clarkston, 25, as a proud man who was the first to arrive at the hangar and the last to leave, always with his toolbag in tow.
When he got excited, Price said, Clarkston would talk quickly and make crazy-looking hand gestures.
"You could see the joy in his heart," he said of the crew chief, who is survived by his wife, Teffiny, and a 15-month-old son.
Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and the military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or email@example.com.