1st AD soldiers dedicate Baghdad buildings to fallen comrades
BAGHDAD — Four soldiers who left Iraq in flag-draped coffins were remembered on Veterans Day by their comrades who remain to complete the task.
“These soldiers did not die in vain,” Lt. Col. Chuck Sexton told the soldiers Tuesday at Firebase Melody in Baghdad. “These soldiers died for a dream. That dream is freedom. They gave their lives for the flag you see in front of you. They died for you.”
Sexton is commander of the 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment from Friedberg, Germany, part of the 1st Armored Divison.
Four plaques were placed on buildings at the camp, a former school complex that is now home to about 650 soldiers.
The men honored were Pfc. Robert L. Frantz, 19, who was killed by an explosive device while guarding the central bank on June 18; Spc. Edward J. Herrgott, 20, killed by a sniper while guarding a museum in Baghdad on July 3; Sgt. Juan M. Serrano, 21, who died in a vehicle accident on July 24; and Spc. William J. Maher III, 35, who was killed by an improvised explosive device on July 28.
“It was the right thing to do,” Sexton said after the ceremony when asked about the decision to dedicate the buildings to the fallen soldiers. He said the plaques will return to Germany with the unit and will be displayed there.
Pfc. Pedro Flores could not believe it when told that Frantz had been killed.
“I thought they were lying,” he recalled. “I saw him 45 minutes before that. I couldn’t believe it.”
Others remembered Frantz as a happy-go-lucky fellow, someone who was always in a good mood. Even talking about their fallen buddy made many of his friends smile.
“He had the weirdest laugh ever,” said Pfc. Jeremy Dircks. “As soon as he started laughing, everyone would start rolling [with laughter].”
Pfc. Daniel Lewis said his crewmembers have named their Bradley fighting vehicle for their friend. It has been christened The R.L. Frantz.
“There was never a dull moment with him,” he said .
Spc. Robert Owen was with Frantz when he died.
“We were on guard [at the bank],” he said. “We noticed some Iraqis staring at us.”
Owen didn’t like that, he said, but Frantz tried to tell him it was nothing to worry about. Suddenly, something dropped to the ground next to Frantz. It was a bomb that blew up and killed the soldier almost instantly.
Owen was saved by a cooler that was filled with ice, water and soda, and which absorbed much of the shrapnel. But he was still wounded. Despite that, he tried to save his friend, but to no avail.
Maher was remembered by young soldiers as an older fellow who helped them adjust to their new assignment in Germany, organized ski trips to Austria for them and made them welcome.
“He was the only guy in the platoon with a car, and he’d take you where you wanted to go,” said Spc. Chad Crom.
Maher had graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and was going to leave the Army in a few months to take a job as a chef at a New Jersey hotel. Because of that, said Sgt. 1st Class Casey McFall, Maher was assigned a job as a driver.
“As it happened, that duty led him to be driving the [executive officer] that day,” said McFall.
An improvised explosive device killed Maher and wounded the three others in the Humvee.
“I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to drive past the place where Maher was killed,” said McFall. Soldiers usually fall quiet as they pass that spot, he said.
“Every time we roll out, we think of him,” added Spc. Charles Hudson.
Herrgott arrived at his unit the day before he was killed.
“I talked to him less than an hour before the attack,” said Capt. Chris Ayers.
He described the soldier as upbeat about the mission and ready to do his job.
In his speech to his troops, Sexton said, “It’s not easy to say goodbye to a friend. They’re still with us in our hearts. They’re still with us in our minds. They’re still with us in the U.S. Army.”