KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Tall and striking — a black suit accenting pale skin and a grown-out, blond high-and-tight — Jason Bulla sat in the left center aisle of Daenner Chapel as the crowd of more than 400 mourners silently filed out.
He remained sitting after nearly everyone else had gone, dabbing his eyes from time to time as he talked quietly with a soldier. Finally, he walked to the front of the chapel where photos of Sgt. Tatjana Reed, 34, and Spc. Torey J. Dantzler, 22, were displayed along with their photos, their weapons barrel-down in their boots — the Army way of signifying fallen soldiers.
After gazing at the photos of Reed and Dantzler, both from the 21st Theater Support Command’s 66th Transportation Company, 28th Transportation Battalion, he walked out of the chapel. Oblivious to everyone and everything, he sobbed as he crossed the parking lot.
Ask why he mourned, Reed’s and Dantzler’s former 66th comrade stopped and answered in a whisper: “They were perfect.”
Talk to the people who knew them, and the pain of Reed’s and Dantzler’s deaths in Iraq, killed when a July 22 roadside bomb attack in Samarra destroyed their Humvee, is compounded by regret over vital lives cut short.
“We all wish [Dantzler] had been able to see his family one more time before it was his time to go,” said Pfc. Melissa Cramblett, 21, during her soldier’s tribute.
“He never met his son,” said Cramblett, who with Sgt. Avia Olivardia, 24, delivered the tribute. Dantzler, a gunner and driver, was just days away from going home on rest and recuperation to see his Torey Jr. when he died.
“He couldn’t wait to get home and see his son ... . He was a ‘junior,’ and [Dantzler] was so excited,” Cramblett said in an interview after the memorial service Friday.
All Dantzler talked about was his family, Cramblett and Olivardia agreed.
“His wife, his daughter [Kayla] and his new son,” Cramblett said. “He wore his daughter’s photo on his sleeve!” she said, gesturing to the left sleeve of her battle dress uniform. “Really, on his sleeve.”
Reed, a heavy wheeled vehicle operator, also leaves behind a child — her daughter, Genevieve, 12.
Once, Bulla said, Reed came to him and asked him for some wire for her daughter.
“She told me about her daughter. … She was creating a fork that the troops could use downrange to see what they were eating at night,” he said. “I told her, ‘Inventors are not created at 20. They’re seedlings that grow up to be someone beautiful. I told her one day, she’s going to be a great inventor and my child will read about her.’”
In her remarks, Cramblett described how thrilled Reed was to discover a framed photo of her daughter that Genevieve had tucked into her bags before her mom deployed.
There was only one appropriate description of Reed, Staff Sgt. Agustin Sarmiento, 34, a 66th squad leader, said.
“She was an exceptional woman,” Sarmiento said. “An exceptional woman. There were no other words to describe her. She was a real tender, loving, caring person. She cared for soldiers.”
She was also multitalented and multilingual, having been born in Germany, where she went to high school.
During the memorial, commanders and fellow soldiers talked about a mother figure who helped other soldiers translate when they had problems with landlords, a solid noncommissioned officer who stressed loyalty and caring for each other. And they also described a woman who could brew a strong cup of coffee that one soldier said was “better than Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.”
“When I first came to the 66th, Sergeant Reed was the first person I met,” Cramblett said in her remarks. “She took me under her wing. She was a good person, a good NCO and she cared a lot for us.”
While most talked about Reed’s compassion and capabilities, Dantzler was described as the soldier who was always up, and who loved sitting behind his .50-cal in his truck, “a morale booster” for everyone else, no matter what was going on, Cramblett said.
More than anything, though, Cramblett said, she’ll remember what she called Dantzler’s and Reed’s willingness to sacrifice for freedom.
Though many soldiers have fallen in Iraq, each memorial tends to leave mourners searching for a final word or phrase to somehow conjure the essence of people who are deeply missed.
“Words will never be enough,” Olivardia said. “Even though we have an infinity of words, it’ll never be enough.”