FORT RILEY, Kan. - The Victory Bell tolled for its fallen, a firing squad sounded off in salute and bagpipes played a solemn tune as 53 Soldiers were remembered in a somber memorial ceremony July 30 at the 1st Infantry Division's Victory Park.
The ceremony honored the Big Red One Soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in battle during the past year.
"They represented the 1st Inf. Div. with honor, with courage and with dedication," said Maj. Gen. Vincent Brooks, commanding general of the 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley. "Remember that each name is a Soldier with a story. A person who left behind family, friends, brothers and sisters in arms. A person who willingly raised his or her right hand to serve our nation, both here in America and throughout the world ... May their sacrifice, and that of their families, live on in freedom and in liberty, in our hearts and in our fond memories."
More than half of the fallen Soldiers deployed to Afghanistan with the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, a 1st Inf. Div. brigade that deployed from Fort Hood, Texas. Hit especially hard was the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. Thirteen "Blue Spaders" were memorialized during the ceremony. The stones of Spc. Stephen Fortunato, Sgt. Preston Medley and Spc. Cory Bertrand, all Soldiers in Company D, were placed on Victory Walk together.
Fortunato's father Richard and his wife, Nancy, traveled from Beverly, Mass., to pay tribute to their son and his fallen comrades, who all died in Oct. 13, 2008, when an improvised explosive device hit their Humvee.
For the Fortunatos, the Victory Park ceremony and outpouring of support from other Soldiers and community members brought back memories of Stephen's memorial ceremony in their hometown. Stephen was the first Soldier from Beverly to be killed in combat since the Vietnam War and Nancy said the community lined the streets to pay tribute to their son.
"We had the bagpipes and a caisson. People came from far and near.... hearing the bagpipes again, it wasn't good; it reminded me of being back home," Richard said.
Nancy said while the ceremony did bring a small amount of closure, it was still an emotional time.
"This place is overwhelming. We didn't realize it was so big, and knowing Stephen was part of this, he was with a wonderful group of people," Richard added.
"Stephen loved the Army; he loved his job and wanted to be in the action. He wanted to protect his men ... He was very proud," Richard said, noting his son quit college after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and enlisted in the Army. "I know he died doing what he wanted. He told me on his last visit, 'Dad, if I have to die, I'm ready to die.' He did what he had to do. He wanted to do this."

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