Individual memorials might continue for Fort Lewis dead

Fort Lewis leaders are reconsidering a decision to end individual memorial ceremonies for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A post spokesman said Thursday that Brig. Gen. William Troy, acting commander at Fort Lewis, has decided to review his decision to hold a single memorial once a month to honor soldiers recently killed in action.

Lt. Col. Robert Gilpin said Troy's final ruling "will take into account the views of commanders, family readiness groups and our senior non-commissioned officers."

The original decision, made in the last few weeks, was controversial on and off the post.

Many said soldiers who make the ultimate sacrifice deserve a more personal tribute. But Troy said in a memo that with thousands of local soldiers now in hostile action, "our losses will preclude us from continuing to do individual memorial ceremonies."

The current review, said Col. Jack Van Dyken, the post's senior chaplain, is occurring because commanders are not "100 percent sure" that a once-monthly event is the right way to go.

"We want to do what's best," Van Dyken said Thursday.

He said a memorial honoring several soldiers killed in combat will be conducted Tuesday. The next day, an individual ceremony will be held.

He was answering reporters' questions after a memorial service at the post Main Chapel for Sgt. Iosiwo Uruo, who died in Iraq on May 24. Uruo's was presumed to be the last individual ceremony under the old policy.

The post has about 10,000 soldiers deployed to Iraq. Nineteen have been reported killed there in May, more than any other month since the invasion in March 2003.

Danielle Milner, whose former husband was killed in Iraq, said she was happy to hear that Troy would reconsider his decision.

"It seemed so dehumanizing and impersonal to 'lump' all of the deaths in a month together," the Spanaway resident said. "The harsh reality is that many, many men and women have died and are dying every day and people need to see these memorials to them."

She said she is a daughter of Air Force members and served in the Air Force for four years on active duty.

He ex-husband, Staff Sgt. Jesse L. Williams, was killed in Iraq over the Easter weekend by a sniper. Williams, like Uruo, was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

"I don't want anyone to ever become desensitized to any death that occurs, and grouping these memorials together, I feel, would do that," Milner said.

Maj. Kyle Marsh, who gave a tribute at Sgt. Uruo's ceremony and is the commander of the Stryker brigade's rear detachment, acknowledged there has been debate about the policy switch. But he said consolidating memorials can be done well.

"We did one for six soldiers killed in the same incident," he said. "It was intimate. It took more time, but every soldier was honored."

Lt. Gen. Bill Harrison, a former Fort Lewis commander and Lakewood mayor, also attended Thursday's memorial. The services, he said, are "just wrenching" for everyone involved.

He said he supported the decision by Troy, who is serving as post commander until the arrival of Maj. Gen. Charles Jacoby, Jr., recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

"We can still honor the soldiers," Harrison said. "It's a combined group, but we can still honor them as individuals."