MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
On a somber day with overcast skies, a chill breeze blew over a ceremony of service members, family and friends joined together to forever memorialize in their hearts and minds the bravery of their brothers-in-arms and protectors of freedom.
Marines and sailors with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment gathered with service members, friends and family for a memorial service Dec. 12 at the Combat Center’s Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field, to pay respects to 20 men who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the unit’s recent deployment to Afghanistan.
“Today we memorialize our brave fallen,” said Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Lillie, the ceremony narrator and battalion administration chief for 2/7, while speaking to the solemn crowd before reading the names of the fallen.
As each name was called, Marines meticulously placed weapons, helmets, boots and pictures in honor of each Marine, sailor, soldier or interpreter who gave their lives, in a traditional Marine memorial; rifle muzzle down, helmet resting on the buttstock, a pair of boots placed at attention and a photo of the service member resting above the boots.
With the placement of each memorial, the fallen men’s families in attendance fought back tears as fellow Marines presented crisply folded American flags and bouquets of flowers to them in remembrance of their loved one.
After the last name was called, and flag and flowers were given, Lt. Col. Richard Hall, the commanding officer of 2/7, reflected on the Marines’ lives as warriors.
These brave men did not die in vain, Hall said. They gave life and prosperity to those who had none, and gave protection for their brothers who may have shared the same fate.
“We are here today to remember and to give respect to our fallen sons, husbands, friends and brothers,” Hall said. “We will together recount not how each man died, but how each man lived. I want to honor them and carry on their story to anyone who will listen.”
With Hall’s final remarks, Lt. Russell Hale, the 2/7 chaplain, gave his pastoral reflection to help support the wounded hearts of those who knew the fallen men.
Hale said to entrust that a greater being is there for everyone facing these testing trials, and to live our lives in a manner that is worthy of the calling each person receives.
After Hale conveyed his healing words, bagpiper Maj. Sean Smith played “Amazing Grace” before the battalion was called to attention for a ceremonial role call.
Sgt. Maj. Matthew Brookshire, the sergeant major of 2/7, initially called several Marines whose names answered from the assembled ranks. Brookshire called the names of the fallen, as if calling role. After each name was called, it was only met with silence, while a fellow Marine hung their dog tags over each service member’s rifle and a scarf with the colors of the Afghan flag tied around the buttstock of the Afghan interpreter’s memorial.
After the last name was called, the ceremonial firing of rifles and the playing of taps by two buglers brought many to tears.
After colors were called to retire, Hale gave his benediction at the conclusion of the ceremony before friends and family were invited to pay respects to the fallen heroes’ memorials and meet the men their loved ones fought next to.
“This is a very emotional day, but it’s good to have closing with the families,” said Sgt. Joseph France, a machine gun section leader with Company G, when reflecting on the ceremony.
Many families talked with Marines of 2/7, reminiscing on the stories their friends told, while some kneeled and prayed in front of the memorial of the man they so dearly missed.
With the heartfelt sound of a mother crying as her forehead touched the tip of the boot on her son’s memorial, the families, friends and service members said a last goodbye to their brothers and loved ones.
“On behalf of a grateful nation, we bid farewell to these fallen men,” Hall said.
Sgt. Michael T. Washington, 20, of Tacoma, Wash., killed June 14.
PFC Michael R. Patton, 19, of Fenton, Mo., killed June 14.
Lance Cpl. Layton B. Crass, 22, of Richmond, Ind., killed June 14.
PFC Dawid Pietrek, 24, of Bensenville, Ill., killed June 14.
Capt. Eric D. Terhune, 34, of Lexington, Ky., killed June 19.
Lance Cpl. Andrew F. Whitacre, 21, of Bryant, Ind., killed June 19.
Sgt. Matthew E. Mendoza, 24, of San Antonio, killed June 20.
Afghan interpreter Mohammad Abaid Dawary, killed June 20.
Navy Hospital Corpsman Dustin K. Burnett, 19, of Fort Mohave, Ariz., killed June 20.
Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Strickland, 25, of Labelle, Fla., killed June 25.
Lance Cpl. Ivan I. Wilson, 22, of Clearlake, Calif., killed July 21.
Lance Cpl. Jacob J. Toves, 27, of Grover Beach, Calif., killed Aug. 14.
Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez-Castaneda, 29, of Mesa, Ariz., killed Aug. 14.
Cpl. Anthony G. Mihalo, 23, of Naperville, Ill., killed Aug. 14.
Sgt. Jerome C. Bell Jr., 29, of Auburn, N.Y., killed Sept. 19.
Cpl. Jason A. Karella, 20, of Anchorage, Ala., killed Oct. 9.
Cpl. Adrian Robles, 21, of Scottsbluff, Neb., killed Oct. 22.
Lance Cpl. San Sim, 23, of Santa Ana, Calif., killed Oct. 22.
Army Specialist Deon L. Taylor, 30, of New York, killed Oct. 22.
Capt. Trevor J. Yurista, 32, of Pleasant Valley, N.Y., killed Oct. 27.