1st ID homefront remembers dead
WüRZBURG, Germany — For a unit whose roll of war dead is growing every week, rarely has taps been sounded so sadly.
The notes rang out Thursday across the green of Victory Park, the forested lawn at 1st Infantry Division headquarters in Würzburg that is studded with symbols of 1st ID battles dating to World War I.
About 200 soldiers, veterans and family members from the division’s rear detachment gathered to remember fallen soldiers, especially those who died wearing the Big Red One patch. Some of the soldiers present had recently been wounded in Iraq.
With the prayers, the music, the flowers and the pageantry, the ceremony itself differed little from those of past years. But the freshness and closeness of loss stirred the feelings of many people.
Thirty-nine soldiers serving under 1st ID command in Iraq — including 31 from units in the Würzburg area — have died since the unit deployed earlier this year. So have 34 from the division’s 1st Brigade in Fort Riley, Kan., which deployed to the Middle East last August.
“I’ve lost two friends in the past two weeks,” said Sgt. Robert Swartz, of the Schweinfurt-based 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment.
“It hits closer to home,” said Ron Smith, commander of VFW Post 10436 in nearby Kitzingen. “Before I didn’t know the comrades in World War II, or some in Vietnam. Now, when you read the names in Stars and Stripes, you know these people personally.”
The Abu Ghraib prison scandal and stubborn guerrilla resistance have clouded the future of the Iraq mission. But the rear detachment commander, Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, urged the Big Red One and its families to push on.
“The greatest tribute we can pay to our fallen comrades,” said Kolenda, reading from a proclamation by Maj. Gen. John Batiste, the division commander, “is to complete the mission.”