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An inscription on a memorial at NATO headquarters in Kabul honors the international coalition forces who have died in the 15-year war in Afghanistan, seen here on Saturday, May 28, 2016, during a Memorial Day speech by U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

An inscription on a memorial at NATO headquarters in Kabul honors the international coalition forces who have died in the 15-year war in Afghanistan, seen here on Saturday, May 28, 2016, during a Memorial Day speech by U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

An inscription on a memorial at NATO headquarters in Kabul honors the international coalition forces who have died in the 15-year war in Afghanistan, seen here on Saturday, May 28, 2016, during a Memorial Day speech by U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

An inscription on a memorial at NATO headquarters in Kabul honors the international coalition forces who have died in the 15-year war in Afghanistan, seen here on Saturday, May 28, 2016, during a Memorial Day speech by U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

More than 100 members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, along with U.S. Embassy officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan P. Michael McKinley and his wife Fatima, gathered for a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016.

More than 100 members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, along with U.S. Embassy officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan P. Michael McKinley and his wife Fatima, gathered for a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

In a speech commemorating Memorial Day at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, May 28, 2016, Gen. John W. Nicholson shared stories of three men under his command who died in combat in Afghanistan in 2006. More than 100 members of the international coalition, along with U.S. Embassy officials, gathered for a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony at the base.

In a speech commemorating Memorial Day at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, May 28, 2016, Gen. John W. Nicholson shared stories of three men under his command who died in combat in Afghanistan in 2006. More than 100 members of the international coalition, along with U.S. Embassy officials, gathered for a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony at the base. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and Command Sgt. Mag. Delbert Byers, laid a wreath on Saturday, May 28, 2016, to honor all of America's war dead, but especially those who have died in the 15-year Afghan War, as well as coalition and Afghan security forces members. The wreath-laying was part of the Resolute Support headquarters Memorial Day ceremony attended by more than 100 coalition members and U.S. Embassy dignitaries.

Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and Command Sgt. Mag. Delbert Byers, laid a wreath on Saturday, May 28, 2016, to honor all of America's war dead, but especially those who have died in the 15-year Afghan War, as well as coalition and Afghan security forces members. The wreath-laying was part of the Resolute Support headquarters Memorial Day ceremony attended by more than 100 coalition members and U.S. Embassy dignitaries. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson and Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers salute after laying a wreath to commemorate Memorial Day at the NATO headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016. More than 100 members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, along with U.S. Embassy officials, gathered for the ceremony to honor those who have died in the war.

U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson and Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers salute after laying a wreath to commemorate Memorial Day at the NATO headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016. More than 100 members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, along with U.S. Embassy officials, gathered for the ceremony to honor those who have died in the war. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan P. Michael McKinely and his wife Fatima, were among more than 100 members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan and U.S. Embassy officials who gathered for a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony in Memorial Park at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan P. Michael McKinely and his wife Fatima, were among more than 100 members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan and U.S. Embassy officials who gathered for a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony in Memorial Park at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson and Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers salute after laying a wreath to commemorate Memorial Day at the NATO headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016. More than 100 members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, along with U.S. Embassy officials, gathered for the ceremony to honor those who have died. More than 2,300 Americans have died in the 15-year Afghan War.

U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson and Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers salute after laying a wreath to commemorate Memorial Day at the NATO headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016. More than 100 members of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, along with U.S. Embassy officials, gathered for the ceremony to honor those who have died. More than 2,300 Americans have died in the 15-year Afghan War. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. and NATO troops salute during the playing of taps at a Memorial Day ceremony at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016. The ceremony honored all of America's war dead, including more than 2,300 who have died in the 15-year war in Afghanistan, plus the roughly 1,100 coalition servicemembers and 26,000 Afghan security forces members who have died in the country since 2001.

U.S. and NATO troops salute during the playing of taps at a Memorial Day ceremony at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul on Saturday, May 28, 2016. The ceremony honored all of America's war dead, including more than 2,300 who have died in the 15-year war in Afghanistan, plus the roughly 1,100 coalition servicemembers and 26,000 Afghan security forces members who have died in the country since 2001. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. and NATO troops and civilians bow their heads during a benediction that concluded a Memorial Day ceremony at NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan on Saturday, May 28, 2016.

U.S. and NATO troops and civilians bow their heads during a benediction that concluded a Memorial Day ceremony at NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan on Saturday, May 28, 2016. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson and Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers embrace following a Memorial Day ceremony at the NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, May 28, 2016.

U.S. Army Gen. John W. Nicholson and Command Sgt. Maj. Delbert Byers embrace following a Memorial Day ceremony at the NATO headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday, May 28, 2016. (Chad Garland/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — More than 100 U.S. and NATO troops gathered Saturday at NATO headquarters to mark what Resolute Support commander Gen. John W. Nicholson called “one of the most sacred traditions for Americans” — Memorial Day.

“One of the greatest strengths of our historic coalition of 41 nations is the opportunity to share and honor our respective traditions,” Nicholson said.

Memorial Day, which began as a tradition after the Civil War when groups decorated the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers, “offers us an opportunity to pay respect to our past, focus on the present and look forward to the future,” Nicholson said.

He said the ceremony not only honored all of America’s war dead, but especially “all of our fallen from this war,” including more than 2,300 U.S. servicemembers, 1,100 coalition members and 26,500 members of the Afghan security forces.

Nicholson recalled when he and Delbert Byers, now the command sergeant major for Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, were serving together in eastern Afghanistan in 2006. He told the story of Lt. Col. Joseph Fenty, who served under him when he commanded the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division.

Fenty could have gone home in April 2006 for the birth of his first child, Nicholson said, but insisted on staying until the mission was done. A month later, Fenty and nine other soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division were killed when their CH-47 Chinook crashed in Kunar province. Nicholson and Byers carried Fenty’s body to a helicopter after recovering it from the crash site two days later.

Now the NATO mission’s top officer and senior enlisted leader, Nicholson and Byers embraced after laying a wreath at a memorial to all those killed in Afghanistan.

“We have a duty to remember each of them,” Nicholson said.

garland.chad@stripes.com Twitter: @chadgarland

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Chad is a Marine Corps veteran who covers the U.S. military in the Middle East, Afghanistan and sometimes elsewhere for Stars and Stripes. An Illinois native who’s reported for news outlets in Washington, D.C., Arizona, Oregon and California, he’s an alumnus of the Defense Language Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Arizona State University.
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