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Mideast edition, Sunday, July 29, 2007

VICENZA, Italy — In 2003-04, the Caserma Ederle community honored nine members of the 173rd Airborne Brigade who died in Iraq. In 2005-06, Americans and Italians mourned 18 members of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) who lost their lives in Afghanistan.

But no single memorial service during those spans honored as many soldiers as one on Friday. Five Sky Soldiers were killed last week in a pair of deadly incidents in Afghanistan.

The service paid tribute to the character and service of the five: 1st Sgt. Michael Curry, Sgt. Travon Johnson, Pfc. Adam Davis, Pfc. Jessy Rogers and Pfc. Juan Restrepo.

Two of the soldiers had strong roots in Vicenza and were married to Italian nationals.

Curry, the top enlisted soldier in Company D of the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, served enough tours in the city to be a member of four battalions.

He joined the 3rd Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment in 1987 and returned to the unit after it had been reflagged to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment. He then served in the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment before rejoining his original battalion — now known as 1-503 — a year before deploying to Afghanistan again.

SETAF Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Rice, who has also served in Vicenza multiple times, gave the eulogy for Curry.

“My first impression of him was that he was going to do great things for our Army,” Rice said of a meeting five years ago. “And he never let me down."

Curry, survived by his wife, Lucia, and sons Taylor and Kevin, earned a host of medals in several tours downrange. Rice called his performance “truly remarkable during his deployments.”

Johnson arrived in Vicenza in 2003. He served with the brigade in Iraq and Afghanistan and was three months into his second tour in Afghanistan when he, Curry, Davis and Rogers died Monday after their vehicle hit a roadside bomb.

Johnson was remembered by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Young as a dedicated soldier and an even more dedicated husband.

He said Johnson used to take grief from other soldiers on how devoted he was to his wife, Sara. But “if there was anyone you could count on, Sgt. Johnson was the man,” he said.

Six rows in the chapel were occupied by relatives of the two men and their wives.

Restrepo, Davis and Rogers had spent far less time in Italy. But their friends also had plenty of memories.

“He was the medic who saved my life in Afghanistan when I took a round in the shoulder,” Spc. Frank Pecsek said of Restrepo, who died July 22 from small-arms fire.

“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him. I never got the chance to repay him.”

Restrepo came a long way to serve in Vicenza and then Afghanistan. He was born in Colombia, and he’ll be buried there.

Rogers also came a long distance. Born in Texas, he grew up in Copper Center, Alaska. Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Stevan Horning pointed out that because Rogers was one of 11 children, the family made up about 4 percent of the small town’s population.

Pfc. Stephen Martinez recalled Rogers’ trips to the mountains in Italy last winter to go snowboarding: “Not because it was fun, but because it reminded him of home.”

He said Rogers tended to keep to himself or with a small group of friends he played video games with. “His favorite words were ‘super’ and ‘sweet,’” Martinez said, adding that people liked hearing him use them “not because of the words themselves, but because how he said it.”

Martinez remembered Davis as a joker.

“His smile defined him,” he said. “Davis was known for telling a joke, giving away the punch line and being the only one laughing at the end.”

Martinez said he respected Davis for having strong beliefs and sticking to them. And for Davis’ outlook on life. “Adam knew that life was to be lived, but not too seriously,” he said.

Davis would have turned 20 on Friday.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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