The lives of six explosive ordnance disposal technicians who made the ultimate sacrifice in 2008 were celebrated at the 40th annual EOD Memorial Ceremony at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., May 2.

Names enshrined on the memorial were Sgt. James K. Healy, Sgt. 1st Class Lawrence D. Ezell, Staff Sgt. Brian E. Studer, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Strickland, U.S. Navy EOD1 Luis A. Souffront and U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Anthony L. Capra.

All were graduates of the Kauffman EOD Training Complex, the Navy-run Department of Defense School where the EOD Memorial resides. All were killed in the line of duty in 2008.

As the ceremony was about to begin, a solitary bagpiper, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Mark Matice, played an airy medley as he marched to and fro in front of the memorial. The haunting music somberly led nearly 1,500 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, legacy Families, guests and distinguished visitors to their seats. Many stood silent in the rear while 20-man formations from each service framed the memorial.

"These are the times that try men's souls," said U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, quoting American patriot Thomas Paine in his keynote remarks.

Mattis, the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and commander, U.S. Joint Forces Command, headquartered in Norfolk, Va., was introduced by U.S. Navy Capt. Adam Guziewicz, commandant of the EOD School.

"There is no better place to honor the men and women who so fully devoted themselves to their country and the EOD profession than this place, across from the school that generates the next generation of EOD technicians," Guziewicz said during his introductory comments.

"While we formally gather here just once a year to honor the memories of our fallen comrades, the staff and students honor them each day in many ways. Sometimes they're here carefully polishing the brass on the memorial or sweeping sand from the paving stones engraved with the heartfelt messages of others.

"It is during these quiet, contemplative moments that one gets the feeling that this symbol of our sacrifice somehow stands as a silent sentinel -- watching us, guiding us, and perhaps even passing judgment on those of us charged with training future EOD technicians," Guziewicz said.

"I'm very humbled to stand here with you today, in this place that we all consider to be hallowed ground," Mattis said as he stepped to the podium. "I say I'm humbled and you know why. Who could possibly capture in a few words this morning all that these young men meant to us and to our great nation'"

Mattis commanded the 1st Marine Division during the initial attack and subsequent stability operations during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He previously commanded the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade during Operation Enduring Freedom in southern Afghanistan.

"I have led many of America's sons into battle, and I use General Douglas MacArthur's words here today - 'They were splendid in every way,'" Mattis said.

"Some people walk through life wearing a raincoat called fear. But not those young men that we commemorate here today," he continued. "Did they know fear' Of course they did. But they didn't wear it, and it didn't shape their lives. Courage was what shaped their lives.

"These young men looked beyond the hot political debates swirling around an unpopular war and heard their country's call. We celebrate them here today and the example they set for us, even as it humbles each one of us to do so."

Mattis was reverential as he described the strength of America, recalling the words of President Abraham Lincoln.

"He said 'America's strength has always been in following our better angels -- our love of liberty, our passion for peace, our ceaseless harboring of hope, our colossal willingness of the heart.'

"I love those words," Mattis said, repeating the phrases, '...the ceaseless harboring of hope, our colossal willingness of the heart.'

"We send our best out into the world - the best, the brightest and bravest our nation has to offer - the sons and daughters who will forever stand as the better angels of America."
Mattis praised the Families of the fallen.

"Our nation is thankful for your strength, for you gave these young men their foundation of character - apples don't fall far from the tree. Your examples formed their outlook on life, on what has value. For that you should proud--for raising up a rambunctious better angel with whom it has been my honor to serve.

"The cost has been very dear," Mattis continued. "We are reminded of that here today. But we will teach this enemy a lesson, these maniacs, and the lesson is you cannot scare us by hurting us. This experiment that we call America will survive, thanks to the young men we celebrate here today and others like them."

After the general's comments, a roll call of all EOD technicians who made the ultimate sacrifice was read. The roll now has 238 names. The latest additions were unveiled and wreaths were placed before each service's memorial plaque.

Senior commanders kneeled as they presented a tri-folded American flag that had flown over the memorial to the Families of the honored. After standing, each officer rendered a slow salute, the gesture of a grateful nation.

Following a 21-gun salute, Senior Airman Biquiana Rivas of the Eglin Air Force Base honor guard, played Taps, concluding the ceremony.

Many guests lingered long afterward, talking to friends, touching the wall, remembering the fallen EOD warriors.

After taking photos of the names on the Army memorial, Staff Sgt. Timothy Haar, an EOD technician from Fort Carson, Colo. was overcome by grief. He buried his face in his wife Meagan's shoulder.

"Sergeant Ezell was my platoon sergeant in the 62nd [Ordnance Company in Iraq]," he softly said as tears rolled down his cheeks. "It could have been my name up there."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16