News: Spartans remember their own
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Epperson
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – At the close of “Sparta Week,” a week filled with activities and competitions aimed at building esprit-de-corps among paratroopers and their families, the Spartan Brigade remembered and paid respect to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Family, friends and paratroopers gathered Sept. 6, 2013, for a remembrance ceremony at the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, headquarters to honor the 81 paratroopers killed in action during the brigade's three deployments in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
Maj. James Lee, 4-25th IBCT chaplain, led the invocation, which recognized the fallen paratroopers and family members who still carry grief over their loved ones.
"We pray for those even now in our own ranks, who called these that we remember, friend," Lee, a native of English, Ind., said.
Spartan Brigade commander Army Col. Matthew W. McFarlane thanked those in attendance and quoted former general of the Army Douglas McArthur.
“The soldier who is called upon to give his life for his country practices the greatest principle of religious training – that of sacrifice,” McFarlane said.
McFarlane also spoke how the circumstances of their deaths were different.
“They all gave the last full measure of their devotion to the same noble cause - serving their country in harm’s way so another nation might, one day know the precious blessings of liberty and freedom granted by a constitution and representative form of government.”
“Every combat veteran here today, and if our 81 fallen brothers and sisters could speak to us, all would agree, while soldiers might volunteer for service because of a lofty patriotic ideal, when he is locked in mortal combat, he isn’t fighting for those concepts,” McFarlane said. “He’s fighting, at that very moment, for his buddies on his left and right and for those fellow soldiers in his immediate vicinity with thoughts of his family and loved ones very close to the surface. It is fitting that some of those loved ones, of whom they last thought, their family and fellow soldiers, are here today to honor their memory.”
McFarlane said we must keep in mind to honor them through our actions everyday.
“Each one of them there is a personal story and these troopers’ friends and families lost much more than just a name.”
McFarlane stressed the importance of these memorials so families and troopers can find mutual strength and support.
“As we remind ourselves that our gift of life and liberty comes at the sacrifice of so many others, we must remember this as we continue to pursue the great cause for which they gave so much,” he said.
Retired Master Sgt. Andrew S. Lucas, a Gold-Star family member, was in attendance and was an honored guest speaker. As he began to speak behind the podium, Col. McFarlane held an umbrella to shield him from the steady rain.
Lucas’ brother Pfc. Shawn Falter, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, was killed in action January 20, 2007 while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He spoke of the last time he remembered Shawn and his family members were together while Shawn was on his pre-deployment leave. The brothers were playing a poker game and the conversation started about Shawn’s deployment.
Their other brother Dave urged Shawn not to go.
Lucas recalled Shawn’s reply immediately.
“It’s my job. My buddies need me.”
“The reason I remembered this was I wondered if I could be as confident as Shawn was when I was called upon to deploy,” Lucas said. “Sitting across from me was not my kid brother, but a peer, a professional soldier, and a man I respected.”
The poem “Memorial Day,” by C.W. Johnson was read, followed by a moment of silence to pay tribute and respect to the fallen Spartans.
The remembrance ceremony concluded with a 21-gun-salute and the playing of taps.
Command Sgt. Maj. Frank E.W. Hacker, the senior enlisted adviser for 4-25 IBCT, said the remembrance ceremony means a great deal to the Spartan family.
“It means everything,” Hacker said. “It means paying respects to the soldiers that have fallen.”
Other paratroopers in attendance said it gives paratroopers a chance to remember the fallen and ensures their contributions are not forgotten.
“They will be remembered,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Kerns, the civil affairs officer, assigned to Headquarters Company, 4-25 IBCT. “Not just in the minds of the family, but by the people on the left and right that they served with.