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VICENZA, Italy — Hundreds of people thousands of miles from the front lines in Afghanistan spent time Thursday remembering four members of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) who will never return to Caserma Ederle.

Spc. Blake Hall, 1st Lt. Joshua Hyland, Spc. Michael Lehmiller and Pvt. Christopher Palmer were killed Sunday when a massive bomb exploded underneath a bridge their Humvee was crossing. The four members of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment were in a convoy delivering supplies to a needy village.

“These men risked and lost their lives helping others less fortunate than them,” said Lt. Col. Michael Shinners, rear detachment commander for the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

It was an emotional memorial service at the base chapel, with soldiers and community members filling the seats, forcing some to stand. Eleven soldiers based in Vicenza have died since SETAF took over the mission in country on March 15. Nine soldiers from the 173rd died during their yearlong stint in Iraq in 2003-04.

“We’ve gone too often [to services] this year to honor those who have given their all,” Shinners said.

He took the microphone after four soldiers recalled their friends, mostly with tales of happier times. Shinners voiced pretty much the opposite.

“Our hearts are angry and sad. The sadness will go away,” he said, implying the anger would not. “Vengeance is Battle Company’s. Vengeance is ‘the Rock’s’ (the battalion’s nickname). And vengeance belongs to the ‘Sky Soldiers’ (the 173rd Airborne Brigade’s nickname).

“In the end, the cowards that built this bomb and exploded it will meet their own early deaths.”

Staff Sgt. Robert Colliton, struggling to stay composed, said that three days before Hall lost his life, he “stood in front of our company and re-enlisted for another four years.”

“Specialist Hall, I want you to know that your death was not be in vain. I know that every Battle Company trooper will take the fight even harder to the enemy for you.… I promise you that no Battle Company soldier will ever forget your name or your sacrifice.”

Spc. Michael Denny read a letter written by Hyland’s wife, Lanie. “He will live in our hearts and minds as a man who mattered, a man who set goals and a man who accomplished them,” she wrote.

She said her husband’s biggest hero was his father, who served in Vietnam.

“All [his father] wanted to do was serve his country and come home. And he did. Josh has more to do. God has different plans for him. He will accomplish them.”

Pfc. Andre Owens remembered joking with Palmer about West Coast vs. East Coast rappers.

“What I remember most about ‘P’ was that he would take a bad situation and laugh it off.”

Sgt. Garrett Tetrault said he had met Lehmiller only a few times, but he had made an impression.

“Though I only knew him briefly, I feel like I lost a brother,” he said.

“He will be gone, but not forgotten.”

The service was broadcast live on AFN Vicenza, with those still serving in Afghanistan able to listen in.

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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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