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A 1st Cavalry Division soldier gives his fallen comrades a final salute at a memorial service Saturday for seven soldiers killed in fighting in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad last Sunday.
A 1st Cavalry Division soldier gives his fallen comrades a final salute at a memorial service Saturday for seven soldiers killed in fighting in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad last Sunday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
A 1st Cavalry Division soldier gives his fallen comrades a final salute at a memorial service Saturday for seven soldiers killed in fighting in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad last Sunday.
A 1st Cavalry Division soldier gives his fallen comrades a final salute at a memorial service Saturday for seven soldiers killed in fighting in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad last Sunday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
1st Cavalry Division soldiers salute during the playing of taps at a memorial service Saturday honoring seven comrades killed in fighting in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad last Sunday.
1st Cavalry Division soldiers salute during the playing of taps at a memorial service Saturday honoring seven comrades killed in fighting in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad last Sunday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
First Sgt. Casey Carson, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, adjusts the dogtag of one of the fallen soldiers before the start of a memorial service Saturday for seven comrades killed in fighting in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad last Sunday.
First Sgt. Casey Carson, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, adjusts the dogtag of one of the fallen soldiers before the start of a memorial service Saturday for seven comrades killed in fighting in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad last Sunday. (Michael Abrams / S&S)
Lt. Col. Gary Voleski, commander, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, speaks at a memorial service for 1st Cav soldiers killed in Iraq.
Lt. Col. Gary Voleski, commander, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, speaks at a memorial service for 1st Cav soldiers killed in Iraq. (Michael Abrams / S&S)

“Specialist Sheehan,” the first sergeant called. No one answered.

“Specialist Sheehan!” the sergeant called again, louder this time.

“Specialist Casey Sheehan!” the sergeant cried out a third and final time.

As 500 soldiers listened, only the sound of the Apache helicopters overhead could be heard.

Like the six other soldiers memorialized Saturday under a blazing Baghdad sun, and whose names were called during the traditional roll call at the service, Sheehan was killed in a firefight April 4.

Like the six others, all part of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, he was killed in a Shiite slum on the outskirts of Baghdad three weeks after getting off a troop plane from Fort Hood, Texas.

Like all eight soldiers killed that night — Sgt. Michael W. Mitchell of the 1st Armored Division was memorialized earlier — he was part of a quick response team that rushed out of Forward Operating Base Eagle to rescue a platoon pinned down by gunfire in Sadr City after what had been a routine patrol by four Humvees.

The others memorialized Saturday were Spc. Dustin Hiller, Cpl. Forest Jostes, Pfc. Robert Arsiaga, Spc. Ahmed Cason, Spc. Israel Garza and Sgt. Yihjyh Chen.

On FOB Eagle, less than a mile from where the soldiers were killed, each of the dead was remembered briefly. One was confident and well-liked, another was thought to be a little naive, with a good sense of humor. One was very generous, another was exceptionally strong, and after he was wounded, he gave the thumbs-up sign to say he was doing fine. Several were married and had children. One had four daughters and a son on the way.

They were all about 25 years old, except for Chen, who was in his 30s, had become a U.S. citizen while in the Army and spoke five languages.

“Uncommon valor was common that day,” Lt. Col. Gary Volesky, battalion commander and one of several speakers at the service, said of the battle in which they died. “You know I’m sad, but the memory of my soldiers lifts me up.”

The battle was one of the worst single losses for U.S. soldiers since the fall of Baghdad a year before. The firefight lasted into the early morning of Monday, wounding some 50 soldiers who went out in waves to put down the attack by a militia loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Bradley fighting vehicles, tanks and air support finally put down the uprising, one of several in Iraq that day.

Capt. Brian O’Malley, a 1st Cav spokesman, said the soldiers killed were riding in lightly armored tactical trucks. That taught a brutal lesson, he said. “More armor. From now on, tanks and Bradleys will do rescues,” he added.

The dead were remembered as brave soldiers, who went willingly to battle and whose finest hour came as they met their deaths for country and their fellow soldiers.

“It is awesome, the devotion to the soldiers they have,” said 1st Lt. Chris Cannon.

The same could be said of Cannon, who was among the wounded. He’d been gone from his soldiers for six days — too long, he said. His wound was really nothing, he said, just the back of his calf, the bullet went in and out, he was barely limping. He could not wait to get back to the base, and back to the soldiers.

Cannon said he was trying not to second-guess things, to say “if-only.” But he couldn’t help it.

“There were spaces in the Bradley … if they’d gotten in the Bradley. …,” he said.

As the ceremony continued, tears began to fall. “Four of the guys were in my company,” said 1st Lt. Chris Brautigam, 24. “It was tough that night when I found out they weren’t coming back.”

He said soldiers reacted differently to the terrible events of the day. “Some people were quiet,” he said. “Some were itching to get back out.”

Volesky mentioned those, the ones itching to get back out. He said he had asked some soldiers who had returned already to safety if they wanted to go back into the fray.

“‘Sir,’” he said they replied, “‘We’re waiting on you.’”

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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