173rd remembers fallen on 50th anniversary
March 29, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (March 27, 2013) -- On the night before he read the name of his deceased son at the 50th anniversary celebration of the 173rd Airborne Brigade at the National Infantry Museum, Martin Madden went to the brigade's memorial alone with his guitar, and played for several hours.
It was the night before the birthday of his son, Russell, who would have been 32, had he not been killed in Afghanistan on June 23, 2010.
Madden taught his son how to play.
He dwelt on memories of Russell, including the times they played guitar together and the last time he spoke to him on Father's Day, three days before he died. Russell also left behind a wife and son, Madden said.
"I sure do miss him," he said.
"Sometimes communication wasn't always as strong as it could have been (between us). But we could always play music together."
Madden drove more than 10 hours to Fort Benning from Dayton, Ky., a small town of about 5,000 people next to the Ohio River, in his son's red Ford pick-up truck, which Madden bought him for his 12th birthday.
"My wife wasn't strong enough to make it," he said. "I wouldn't have missed it. These were his battle buddies."
Madden was one of dozens of Family members on Saturday who read the names of the 96 Sky Soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq at the 173rd Airborne Brigade National Memorial.
"We're overcome with pride and grief in equal amounts," Madden said. "I'm proud my son served with dignity and honor and that he was a go-to guy. But you're just overcome by this void that you have. For the first year, we tried to throw stuff into that hole, thinking it would fill up, but it didn't."
The event was a part of a daylong celebration, which included a ceremonial reading of the names of each fallen Sky Soldier of the Vietnam era, held at the National Infantry Museum Stadium and attended by about 600 people, said retired Col. Kenneth Smith, president of the brigade's memorial foundation.
The name readings for the Vietnam War took over three hours, Smith said.
"That was a tough ceremony," he sad. "When we watch the parents read the names of their children, it's particularly moving, knowing how difficult this is for them. But they're the reason we built this (memorial)."
Smith commanded two companies during Vietnam, he said, one which he took over just after it lost 76 members in June 1967.
A lot of memories filled Smith's mind throughout the day as well, he said. He remembered one day he was on his way to promote a good friend to the rank of major when he learned a sniper had just killed him. He remembered Charles Waters, his chaplain, who was killed by an air-to-ground bomb in 1967. Waters' name was one of the ones Smith read Saturday.
"This monument is also for those of us who came back because it helps us deal with what we've experienced," Smith said.
Aside from the reading of the names ceremonies, retired Cpl. Gavin Campbell, who served with the 173rd for two years and had one deployment to Iraq, coordinated a 10th anniversary dinner of the brigade's involvement with Operation Iraqi Freedom. During his eight-year Army career, the two he spent as a Sky Soldier defined him, Campbell said.
"The tie to the 173rd is a unique one, unlike anything in the Army," he said. "When you have guys go into Special Forces, and still wear their 173rd patch, that tells you something. When guys swap out their Ranger tab for their 173rd, that tells you something.
"We lost some really good guys. Because of the tenacity of the brigade … the guys we did lose were felt that much more. But that made us fight so much harder so the next guy wouldn't go down."
The 173rd was activated on March 26, 1963, and deployed to South Vietnam on May 5, 1965. During the six-year span of its deployment, the brigade lost 1,646 Sky Soldiers. The 173rd was deactivated at Fort Campbell, Ky., on Jan. 14, 1972, and reactivated on June 12, 2000. Today the brigade is stationed in Vicenza, Italy, and returned from a nine-month deployment in February in which 14 Sky Soldiers were lost.
Madden said it was important for Family members, or the ones closest to the fallen Sky Soldier, to be the ones reading their names.
"If there is something going on to honor him, someone else shouldn't read (my son's) name," he said.