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An Army color guard stands in front of the Fallen Soldier Memorial statue at the 1st Infantry Division service in Würzburg, Germany, on Monday.

An Army color guard stands in front of the Fallen Soldier Memorial statue at the 1st Infantry Division service in Würzburg, Germany, on Monday. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

An Army color guard stands in front of the Fallen Soldier Memorial statue at the 1st Infantry Division service in Würzburg, Germany, on Monday.

An Army color guard stands in front of the Fallen Soldier Memorial statue at the 1st Infantry Division service in Würzburg, Germany, on Monday. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

Leslie Garza-Muñoz, center, cries out Monday over the death of her son, Sgt. Javier Marin Jr.

Leslie Garza-Muñoz, center, cries out Monday over the death of her son, Sgt. Javier Marin Jr. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

A 1st Infantry Division soldier salutes during the playing of taps.

A 1st Infantry Division soldier salutes during the playing of taps. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

Family members sit silently as the names of all 1st ID soldiers killed in Iraq are read.

Family members sit silently as the names of all 1st ID soldiers killed in Iraq are read. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

A lone red rose rests on plaques bearing the names of 193 soldiers killed in Iraq since 2003.

A lone red rose rests on plaques bearing the names of 193 soldiers killed in Iraq since 2003. (Raymond T. Conway / S&S)

WüRZBURG, Germany — The mother, father, brother and fianceé of Sgt. Michael Carlson sat quietly through the final roll call, the blowing of taps, the sad notes of the “Soldiers’ Hymn,” thinking every minute of the young man his buddies called “Shrek.”

The boy they remembered reveled in messiness like the cartoon ogre. He loved to get his hands greasy working on his car or rolling around in the mud playing football.

“He wasn’t happy unless he was getting dirty,” his mother, Merrillee Carlson of St. Paul, Minn., recalled Monday.

Nearly five years before Carlson, 22, of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment died Jan. 24 with four of his platoon mates in the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle that rolled over in an Iraqi canal, he wrote a senior-year essay about his hopes for the future. His brother, Daniel Carlson Jr., ran across it last year while cleaning house and thought it would make a fitting tribute if the worst should ever happen.

“I sometimes dream of being a soldier in war,” he wrote. “In this war I am helping to liberate people from oppression. In the end there is a big parade and a monument built to immortalize in stone.”

Monday, his dream, sadly, came true.

Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, dedicated a monument in memory of the soldiers from the Big Red One and its attached units who have died since 2003 in Iraq. Carlson’s name is one of 193 etched in bronze on the statue’s base, and in a stone walkway that lies before it.

The 1st ID soldiers and supporters raised $60,000 to build the memorial in Victory Park, outside division headquarters in Würzburg.

“I suspect that Sergeant Carlson’s prophetic words ... ring true for many,” Batiste said. “He wanted to make a difference. He did. He served a higher calling.”

More than 500 soldiers attended the ceremony. Chaplains read the names of every soldier who died.

“It definitely hurts,” said Capt. Henry Delacruz, who lost three soldiers from the unit he commanded in Iraq, Company B, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment. “You’re sad when you hear their names. But you look at the monument [1st ID soldiers] put up for these guys, and it’s great to see what they did.”

Family members of 26 fallen soldiers watched the service, some wiping away tears. For many, it was the first time meeting the men and women who served with their loved ones. Several said they would not have missed the chance.

“It’s been a great experience, being able to come here,” said Matthew Blodgett, whose brother, Pfc. Nicholas Blodgett, 21, of the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, died in a roadside bomb explosion July 11, 2004. “It’s helped a lot talking to the people who were in his unit.”

Not that it was easy. After the ceremony, Leslie Garza-Muñoz knelt down and wailed in pain as she held a photo of her only son, Sgt. Javier Marin of the 2-2 Infantry, who died in the same accident that took Carlson’s life.

She touched his name on the memorial stone, shouting “My baby! My son!” in her native Spanish. The sight and sound of her grief moved others to tears.

“He was a wonderful son,” she said later. “I met all his friends, his brothers. I saw how much he was loved.”

In his speech, Batiste thanked the families and asked God to comfort them. He promised that their soldiers’ sacrifice wouldn’t be forgotten.

“We honor them on behalf of all the spouses who lost a partner in life, parents who have lost a son or daughter, and all the children who will grow up without a parent,” he said.

“We cherish their loss. We miss them terribly.”


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