Heroes from across history honored at Victory Park rededication
June 12, 2014
FORT RILEY, Kan. - Ten more stones were installed June 12 in Victory Park. What's significant isn't the stones themselves, but the men whose names are carved into them and the lives they led.
The 1st Infantry Division honored 10 Soldiers at the Victory Park rededication ceremony, part of the annual Victory Week observance. Seven of the Soldiers died while serving with the "Big Red One" in the past year, while three were Medal of Honor recipients from the 1st Inf. Div.
Stones bearing the names of Spc. Angel Lopez and Sgt. 1st Class William Lacey of 201st Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div., Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randy Billings, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Silverman and Sgt. Peter Bohler of 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div., Sgt. 1st Class Omar Forde, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div., and Spc. Terry Gordon, 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div., were laid in front of the Fallen Soldier Memorial in Victory Park. This brings the total number of stones in Victory Park marking the combat death of a Soldier attached to the 1st Inf. Div. since the start of the Global War on Terror to 569.
Staff Sgt. Walter D. Ehlers, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Normandy, France, in June 1944, died Feb. 20. Sgt. Alfred B. Neitzel received the Medal of Honor for his valorous actions in Heistern, Germany, Nov. 18, 1944. When an enemy assault threatened to overrun his unit's position, Nietzel selflessly covered for the retreating members of his squad, expending all his ammunition and holding his post until he was killed by an enemy hand grenade. Sgt. Candelario Garcia distinguished himself on Dec. 8, 1968, as a team leader during a reconnaissance-in-force mission near Lai Khe, Vietnam. Garcia destroyed two enemy machine-gun positions in an attempt to aid casualties that were in the open and under fire. Garcia then rejoined his company in a successful assault on the remaining enemy positions. He passed away on Jan. 10, 2013.
Both Neitzel and Garcia were awarded the Medal of Honor March 18 as part of the Valor 24 group. Each of the 24 Army Soldiers in the group had been previously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor following congressional review.
"Thank you for joining us in honoring the memory of the great Americans who served our nation faithfully as Big Red One Soldiers," said Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley commanding general. "Today we honor the heroes that lived their lives for something greater than themselves. Soldiers who stood in times of our country's greatest need and lived our warrior ethos to the fullest."
Stones with the names of Ehlers, Neitzel and Garcia were laid in front of the Winged Victory statue among the names of other 1st Inf. Div. recipients of the Medal of Honor.
"You would think, given our Army culture, that stories of selfless service would become common, and they are to a degree," Funk said. "But even our seasoned Soldiers often marvel at the sheer determination of will that our fallen mustered under fire and unimaginable circumstance."
Funk told the family members of fallen Soldiers present at the ceremony that they were members of the Big Red One family, and that family mourns and honors their losses with them.
"Although they no longer walk with us, train with us or laugh with us as the Soldiers do whenever they can, their spirit will always fight on with us," Funk said. "After 239 years, this Army still stands for hope. And after 97 years, this division still fights for freedom."
Victory Week coincides with the 1st Inf. Div.'s 97th birthday and the Army's 239th.
"I was very honored that they were doing the ceremony for my son," said Sabina Edwards, mother of Spc. Terry Gordon. "It's a very special moment for us."
Edwards said Gordon was very proud of his accomplishments with the Big Red One. "It was a joy to him," Edwards said. "He kept me abreast of everything he was doing, and to come here and to see it is very emotional.
"He loved live and he loved his Big Red One family."
Catherine Ehlers Metcalf, daughter of Walter Ehlers, traveled from California to attend the ceremony.
"It's quite an honor to be here," Ehlers Metcalf said. "It's nice to have his memory kept alive and to see the appreciation that everyone has for him."