DARIEN, Ill. - An Army Reserve engineer command headquartered in Darien, Illinois, hosted a ceremony in honor of Soldiers who lost their lives in the last two decades of war-fighting operations during a memorial wall unveiling ceremony.
The ceremony took place at the Parkhurst U.S. Army Reserve Center, Darien, Illinois, May 2.
"We wanted to make the memorial unique, and in most cases what you see is colored pictures blazoned on the plaques," said Col. (retired) John Gessner, 416th Engineer Command Association President, who provides support for the ceremony.
"You will see pictures from basic training all the way to guys decked out in combat gear in theater, some with a big smile on their face. From this day forward, everyone that walks through this front door here, that is the first thing they are going to see."
In all, 46 plaques are now on display at the 416th Theater Engineer Command (TEC) headquarters building, each depicting a Soldier who served in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (Saudi Arabia-Iraq-Kuwait: 1990-91), Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq 2002-2012) and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan: 2001 to present).
"This type of memorial isn't just another memorial or ceremony," said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Stanek, 416th TEC command sergeant major. "We have four Soldiers here with the 416th that personally knew some of these Soldiers, as well as the family members that were here. It's extremely important that we have the remembrance of the Soldiers."
Of the Soldiers honored, four are from Desert Shield/Desert Storm; 12 from Operation Enduring Freedom and 30 from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"The birth of this memorial wall occurred sometime after January 2013," said Stanek. "It was when then commanding general Maj. Gen. David Conboy, 416th TEC in his travels across the United States, saw numerous units displays dedicated to their Fallen Heroes."
All of the Soldiers honored here served under either the 416th or 412th TEC, which is a similar organization headquartered in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Together, the two TECs are responsible for the training and deploying of 26,000 Army Reserve Soldiers, most of which are Army engineers experienced in horizontal and vertical construction, geospatial operations and combat engineering, to include route clearance operations.
This ceremony is a combined effort between the two theater engineer commands and the Engineer Command Association, which was founded to promote, foster and improve the well-being of Army Reserve Soldiers in the engineer community and support social and patriotic events such as this.
Some family members of the honored Soldiers were in attendance from several different states, as well as representatives from the Engineer Command Association, U.S. Army Reserve Command leaders and ambassadors, as well as Brig. Gen. Alicia Tate-Nadeau of the Illinois National Guard, who spoke during the event on behalf of the state of Illinois.
During Tate-Nadeau's remarks, some had to stifle their sobs and wipe away the hurt that welled in their eyes. She spoke of the similarities that all of the people in the room shared: sacrifice.
"There are three parts I would like to talk to you about while I am here for this memorial," said Tate-Nadeau. "One is honor, two is remembrance and three is about hope. First we are here to honor our Soldiers, and to honor your loved ones for their sacrifice that they have made, but it wasn't just them that have sacrificed you have sacrificed too. Also, for remembrance to remember our loved ones because they were wonderful people and we know that in each of your hearts you carried them close to you. The last thing I would like to say about today is about hope, if it wasn't for the men and women and the families that sit here today that have gave their ultimate sacrifice our nation would not be free."
During and after the ceremony, family members had the opportunity to share stories and memories of their loved ones.
"We didn't realize how much of an impact the Army had on him until after he was gone, and we started going through his things and found a DVD from his public speaking class after he came back from his deployment," said John Gornewicz, of Buffalo, New York and father of the fallen Sgt. Brett E. Gornewicz. "He spoke about his time in the Reserve, and how much it meant to him, we hold that close to our hearts that he loved what he did, and he loved his fellow service men and women."
For the Gold Star Families, speaking about their Soldiers allows their emotions and pride to keep their memories with them. But along with that pride, pain still resides underneath it all.
"This is like a long story that doesn't have an end. It will be 10 years next month that he will be gone," said Midge Beachem, of Pittsburgh, and mother of the fallen Spc. Robert "Bob" E. Hall. "The community outreach and support groups have helped greatly, the dedication of people and their families is amazing."
This memorial took place one day and one hundred and fifty years after the first unofficial memorial ceremony was held in Charleston, South Carolina. Leaders who spoke reminded their audience that that the same message of honor rings through today.
"It serves us as a constant reminder of all who have passed," said Maj. Gen. Tracy A. Thompson, 412th TEC commanding general. "Freedom is not free, it comes at a cost, and one of those costs wears boots, dog tags and a patch over their hearts that says U.S. Army."