Four photographs, four rifles, four helmets and four pairs of sand-colored boots were lined up in front of the chapel at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Wednesday.
They represented four artillerymen who died together in a bomb attack in Afghanistan while trying to help others stay safe.
They represented four of the five soldiers from the local base who were killed in Afghanistan in July – the bloodiest month on record for U.S. troops since that war began.
Killed in the July 24 attack were:
• Staff Sgt. Conrad A. Mora, 24.
• Sgt. Daniel Lim, 23.
• Spc. Joseph A. Bauer, 27.
• Spc. Andrew L. Hand, 25.
“Every day they left the safety of their base and cleared the roads of Afghanistan so that other soldiers, sailors, Marines, U.S. contractors and the people of Afghanistan could live and operate a little more safely,” said Capt. Matthew Kohler, the rear detachment commander for their battalion.
He noted their skill and professionalism in looking for improvised explosive devices – the weapon that would ultimately claim their lives.
“While others would get out on the roads of Afghanistan in constant fear of IEDs, they got up every day and left the wire to actively hunt and defeat this weapon,” Kohler said.
The base’s North Chapel was filled with more than 500 soldiers. Nearly four-dozen family members also attended; a new Pentagon policy pays the expenses for them to attend unit memorial services.
The four soldiers are the first combat deaths from the 17th Fires Brigade, a former artillery brigade that reorganized at Lewis-McChord in 2007. They belonged to the 5th Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, whose roughly 250 soldiers deployed to Afghanistan in October.
Their deaths marked the largest fatal strike on local troops in nine months.
Friends of the four soldiers spoke about their loyalty, courage, selflessness and love of family.
Mora was lauded as a leader who tackled missions with passion and vigor. Lim was called a “father figure” who invested his time to help single soldiers and saw every task through to the finish. Bauer was called deeply loyal to all he worked with, as well as optimistic and determined. Hand was a soldier who put his mission above his personal needs.
Memorial services for soldiers from Lewis-McChord are all too frequent; in Afghanistan, the base has lost 57 service members, 44 in the past year. But the ceremonies haven’t lost their elegance and tradition.
After tributes and prayers Wednesday, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” In what is called the Final Roll Call, the names of the fallen four were called out three times in the silent chapel. Outside, an honor guard gave a three-volley 21-gun salute and a bugler blew taps.
Family and fellow soldiers were escorted row by row to the front of the chapel. They stood before the symbols of the four men. They wept.
The soldiers each gave a slow salute, many of them freshly home from a year in Iraq with the main element of the 17th Fires Brigade.
Lim’s squad leader, Sgt. Julio Hernandez, is still in Afghanistan until the battalion returns home this fall. But he wrote down his feelings, which were read aloud at the ceremony.
“Rest easy. Sleep well, my brother. Know the line held. Your job is done. Others have taken up where you fell. The line is held.
“Peace. Peace. Farewell, my brother.”
Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692 mike.archbold @thenewstribune.com
4 soldiers honored at memorial
Staff Sgt. Conrad A. Mora
Mora, 24, joined the Army in June 2004, served in Korea and reported to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in November. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan when he died.
Mora grew up in the Philippines and moved to San Diego when he was 9, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. He played high school football and practiced mixed martial arts, the paper reported.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Nelson said Wednesday that he bonded with Mora shortly after they met at Lewis-McChord. They both had sons named Christopher.
“Conrad and his family had a deep dark side to them,” Nelson recalled with a smile. “They were diehard San Diego Charger fans. Charger hats, Charger earrings, blankets, sticker cups. I, being an Indianapolis Colts fan, didn’t know what I had in store from hanging out with this guy.”
When Mora was deployed to Afghanistan, Nelson said he saw Mora’s son take his first steps and helped his wife, Ann, move to another house. “He called and spoke to me saying, ‘Thanks for looking out,’” Nelson recalled.
In addition to his wife and year-old son, Mora is survived by his parents, Alejandrino Mora and Carmelito Fernando.
Sgt. Daniel Lim
Lim, 23, joined the Army in 2006 in Cypress, Calif., and served a total of 31 months on two assignments in Korea. He reported to Lewis–McChord in May 2009. This was his first combat deployment.
He was an avid motorcycle rider and spent time riding through the Northwest with family and friends.
Staff Sgt. Julio Hernandez, Lim’s squad leader, recalled that Lim “was always eager to learn and even more eager to teach and train his soldiers what he had been taught.
“Sgt. Lim was tough and had a side of compassion in which he would sit down with his soldiers and listen to what was weighing heavy on their shoulders, and try his best to help them through the situation,” Hernandez said in a statement read aloud at the memorial. (Hernandez remains in Afghanistan.)
He said the memory of Lim that will most stick with him is the day Lim became a noncommissioned officer. “He was happy, prideful and amped, ready to do the work of an NCO,” Hernandez said.
Lim is survived by his father, Woo Bang, his mother Soon Yeon Lim, and his sister Esther Lim.
Spc. Joseph A. Bauer
Bauer, 27, joined the Army in October 2007 at his hometown of Cincinnati and after training as a motor transport operator was assigned to Lewis-McChord in 2007. This was his first deployment.
His family told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he had recently re-enlisted with plans of becoming a career soldier.
In a statement released this week, Bauer’s wife, Misty, described her husband as “always loyal, caring, honest and willing to defend others.”
Those attributes, she said, led him “to a life and career that shared his values, the United States Army. … He was a proud soldier.”
In the program for Wednesday’s memorial ceremony, Bauer was praised for his “immense knowledge of vehicle driving procedures and his tactical vehicle skills.”
His friend, Sgt. Joey McGee, said his first impression of Bauer was one of pride. “I noticed his uniform was squared away, his boots clean and his head held high.” That impression never changed, he said.
In addition to his wife, Bauer is survived by his father, Roger, and his mother, Lynn.
Spc. Andrew L. Hand
Hand, a 25-year-old father of two, joined the Alabama National Guard in 2005 in Enterprise, Ala., and served two previous deployments: the first to Iraq and the second to Qatar and Kuwait. After switching to active-duty Army in October 2008, he was assigned to Lewis-McChord.
In a statement released to the news media, Hand’s wife, Amanda, called her husband “an amazing father, son, brother, uncle and friend. ... He loved playing guitars and writing songs; it was a great passion of his.
“Andrew loved all of his many friends and had the utmost and highest respect for the men he served and fought with. He regarded them as his brothers, and some as mentors.”
At Wednesday’s memorial, Spc. Ryan Sunzeri said he and Hand used to talk about growing old, sitting around on the porch telling stories and drinking beer together.
“It hurts so bad,” Sunzeri said of losing his friend. But this past week, Sunzeri said he realized Hand would always be there with him, “looking out for me. It’s an amazing thing you can love someone so much knowing them only a short time. ... We became more like brothers than friends.”
In addition to his wife, Hand is survived by sons Gavin and Tristan; his father, Kenneth Hand, and his mother, Phyllis Parris.
Mike Archbold, staff writer