Secondin a four-part series on the 2nd Brigade’s year in Iraq.

Related article:2nd Infantry GIs in Korea pay tribute to comrades lost half a world away

Joseph Giordono / S&SSoldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team built this memorial for their fallen comrades at Forward Operating Base Ramadi, Iraq. Some 70 names, engraved onto metal plates, adorn a board under the gazebo. The fountain is kept running 24 hours a day.

RAMADI, Iraq — On Memorial Day 2005, soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division stood among a few scattered palm trees on their forward operating base and consecrated a wood-and-water memorial to their fallen comrades.

The names of the dead were inscribed on brass plates, affixed to a plank at one end of a boardwalk with a small pool and running fountain. Their portraits lined the rails of the structure, a gallery of “sons, fathers, friends … athletes, musicians, world travelers, computer gamers, financial investors, barracks pranksters, future generals and first sergeants,” as they were remembered by the brigade commander, Col. Gary Patton.

Up to that point, 60 soldiers from 2nd Brigade had died in Iraq. The memorial included 22 more names, of the Marines and Army engineers who served alongside 2nd Brigade in Ramadi. By the end of their tour, eight more 2nd Brigade soldiers would be lost.

The memorial was designed largely by Malcolm Marson, a KBR contractor who worked on the Ramadi base. It was built by Staff Sgt. James Hicks, Spc. Eric Phillips, Spc. Daniel Lahner, Pfc. Michael Lopez, Pfc. Phillip Pilcher, and Pfc. Michael Winn, all of the 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery.

By late July, as the brigade prepared for its move to Fort Carson, Colo., the memorial had become a regular place for soldiers to pause and reflect on the year. They’d sit in groups of three or four, smoking cigarettes and casting occasional glances at the fountain and the board of names.

Some are bitter. Some almost numb to the losses. Almost unanimously, they asked to speak without their names being used, for fear something they said would be construed as disrespectful or cruel.

“You sit here and wonder,” one soldier said. “Part of you believes they died for something, to bring freedom to these people. But part of you says, ‘Damn, they died for some Iraqis that ain’t doing nothin’ to fight for themselves.’ ”

Dealing with casualties and moving on with the mission were things the brigade learned quickly.

“You don’t know until you’re taking casualties how the units are going to react,” said Lt. Col. Tom Bialek, the brigade deputy commander. “The soldiers have impressed me more and more. I’ve learned the resiliency of our soldiers.”

And though the memorial will stay in Ramadi, soldiers’ memories will go home with them.

“Today, we are the new generation of veterans,” Patton said at the ceremony. “Like our forefathers, we have our own victories to celebrate, our own nightmares to endure, and our own tragedies to remember.”

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