HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. -- Special Operations Command South honored 142 fallen warriors during a ceremony here March 3, 2017 unveiling a memorial that preserves the names and legacy of those who died in the line of duty in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1963.
The memorial commemorates U.S. Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force Special Operations Forces members killed during combat operations or while conducting training in U.S. Southern Command's area of responsibility.
"[These fallen warriors] paid the ultimate sacrifice as they trained for and participated in combat operations during a critical period in our nations history," said presiding officer and SOCSOUTH Commander Navy Rear Adm. Collin P. Green.
"[A period where] we sought to assist nations, and their people, pursue our shared western values of democratically elected governments, personal freedom, and human rights," he said.
Two areas near SOCSOUTH's headquarters entrance and pool serve as the memorial's backdrop.
A black granite wall proudly displays the engraved names of the fallen along with their rank, service affiliation, unit, date, and location of their death. Surrounded by USSOUTHCOM, SOCSOUTH, and service emblems, is President Ronald Reagan's quote: "We will always remember. We will always be proud. We will always be prepared, so we may always be free."
Four individual stones near the flag poles pay tribute to SOF warriors killed in action during four major combat operations: Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada, the Salvadoran civil war, Operation Just Cause in Panama, and Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti.
During the ceremony, SOCSOUTH service members representing all four services read each of the 142 names aloud as a bell was rung for each of the fallen.
"These great Americans were every bit like you and me," said retired Army Brig. Gen. Hector Pagan, guest speaker at the ceremony and SOCSOUTH's 11th commander. "Heroes as they were, I'm sure they would never acknowledge anything they did as special; but also like you and me, what set them apart was they loved being in Special Operations, they loved our country, and loved the work they did."
Before today, there was no monument recognizing those who made the ultimate sacrifice, nevertheless the fallen deserve to be remembered and honored, said retired Army Lt. Col. Patrick Lenaghan, SOCSOUTH's deputy director of operations. That's one reason he took it upon himself, working tirelessly with SOF and community volunteers, to properly honor the fallen, an endeavor Lenaghan began in 2014.
"To get here, Pat and his volunteers had to plan like you would an operation, do research, design, work, and most important, set up a non-profit and raise the funds for the memorial," said Pagan, who has known Lenaghan since their time serving together as Green Berets in 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). More than 30 sponsors raised the funds needed to build the memorial, which was donated to SOCSOUTH's headquarters.
"We would not be here today if it wasn't for Pat's vision, tireless persistence over three years, and leadership," said Green. "Thanks Pat, and all who contributed in so many ways to make this happen."
"And to our SOCSOUTH command, use today and the rest of our time here as will I, to know and respect the many chapters of SOCSOUTH's history and pay tribute to those that have gone before us," added Green. "Learn how they led and bled before us and built the culture and legacy we enjoy today."
"We will not forget because as long as we remember they will be with us," said Pagan.