Fort Bragg's living monuments: Every year, new names
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: May 24, 2015
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — There are dozens, if not hundreds, of stone monuments on Fort Bragg.
Some are hunks of granite taller than a man, others only a foot wide.
They are etched with thousands of names, honoring local soldiers lost to combat, sometimes long forgotten.
But there are several monuments on Fort Bragg that are more than stone.
While other wars have ended, their monuments honored on anniversaries or national holidays, memorials to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still have a pulse.
They are referred to as living monuments, changing from year to year with each new death of a Fort Bragg soldier.
This year, dozens of names have been added ahead of Memorial Day events, according to the 82nd Airborne Division and U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
Both units maintain memorials that list their respective unit's war dead.
At least 10 names will be added for soldiers who have died over the past year in Afghanistan.
Another 36 were added to the 82nd Airborne's Vietnam War Memorial.
At the All Americans' Global War on Terror memorial, three names were added to the stone, bringing the total number of soldiers honored there to 247, said John Aarsen, director of the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum.
The division's Vietnam Memorial included more than 220 names before the latest additions.
The added names include soldiers who died in Vietnam but were not originally included on the memorial, officials said.
At the USASOC Memorial Wall, seven new names were added in time for Memorial Day ceremonies, officials said.
The memorial, which now lists 1,193 special operations soldiers, spans back to the Korean War.
On a Saturday earlier this month, James and Bonnie Morton carefully cut out each letter for names that will be added to the 82nd Airborne Division memorials.
Bonnie moved slowly. Worrying over each letter, striving for perfection.
James was faster, more experienced, she said.
Putting on a mask, he used a sandblaster to etch the names onto the memorials.
The three soldiers the division lost last year are Sgt. 1st Class Samuel C. Hairston, Spc. Brian K. Arsenault and Spc. Joseph W. Riley.
Hairston and Arsenault were part of the same battalion, the 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, and were each serving in Ghazni, Afghanistan.
Riley was a member of 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, and was serving in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Hairston, 35, of Houston, died Aug. 12 after his unit was attacked by small-arms fire, officials said.
Arsenault, 28, of Northborough, Massachusetts, died on Sept. 4, also during a small-arms attack.
Left to right: Sgt. 1st Class Samuel C. Hairston, Spc. Joseph Riley, Spc. Brian K. Arsenault
Their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Chris Hockenberry, called the men exceptional paratroopers and valued members of the team after their deaths, which he called great losses for the battalion.
Hockenberry pledged the unit would not forget the soldiers.
Riley, 27, of Grove City, Ohio, died Nov. 24 after his vehicle came under attack by a suicide bomber.
"Spc. Riley was a superb paratrooper who I will remember as having an infectious positive attitude," said Lt. Col. Matthew Konz, Riley's battalion commander. "He was able to lift the spirits of those around him, even in the worst conditions. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to know and serve with him."
Riley was one of the last soldiers killed before the end of Operation Enduring Freedom.
As the Mortons prepared to add his name to the memorial, a soldier in civilian clothes approached to check on the work.
"The last name's my soldier," the unnamed man said before walking away. "Thank you."
At the USASOC memorial, three Fort Bragg soldiers were among the seven additions to the wall for 2015. All three were members of the 3rd Special Forces Group who died in Afghanistan.
Sgt. 1st Class Michael Cathcart, 31, of Bay City, Michigan, was killed in Kunduz province on Nov. 14.
Assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, it was Cathcart's fifth deployment to Afghanistan.
After his death, his battalion commander called him a "true warrior" who died with his teammates at his side.
The unit "lost one of our nation's finest," the commander said.
Staff Sgt. Girard Gass, 33, of Lumber Bridge, died following a noncombat incident at the Jalalabad Air Field Hospital on Aug. 3.
He was remembered as an exceptional soldier who loved his family, team, country and job with everything he had.
Gass was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, and was on his second deployment to Afghanistan.
His battalion commander said the unit was proud, honored and humbled to have known the soldier, who would "never be forgotten."
Capt. Jason Jones, 29, of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, was killed in Nangarhar province on June 2.
He was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion and was on his second deployment.
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