VICENZA, Italy – Paratroopers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade persevered through a rainy formation on Thursday, 25 May, in front of their brigade headquarters on Caserma Del Din for a Memorial Day ceremony that honored the history of the brigade, and its fallen. The event highlighted the significant losses endured by the 173rd from its conception during World War I through the Global War on Terror, while also drawing attention to the enduring legacy of the “Sky Soldiers”.
“We live in the shadow of giants, and stand on their shoulders,” said Brigade Commander, Col. Michael Kloepper, while delivering his remarks before the troops and community members, including several 173rd Gold Star families.
The American, Italian, and NATO flags flew in contrast to a grey sky during a ceremonial wreath laying, which recognized fallen paratroopers from World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Global War on Terror.
When speaking of the fallen Sky Soldiers, Brigade Chaplain Maj. Joel Payne, who delivered the event’s invocation, reflected on the brigade’s duty to honor their fallen. “Honoring the fallen helps us to remember,” he said. “They give us something to strive towards in our own service.”
The names of all 91 service members who were killed in action during the Global War on Terror were read, followed by the firing of volleys, “Taps”, and a performance of “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.
“It’s very special to be here,” said Pfc. David Sapien, who arrived at the unit six months ago. “I know the fallen heroes who have gone before us were a part of this family—and they still are.”
This family is one of a distinguished legacy. The brigade earned 13 Medals of Honor during the Vietnam War after being the first major U.S. unit to deploy in the war, and they conducted the conflict's only combat parachute jump. During the Global War on Terror, the 173rd deployed four times to Afghanistan, earning one Medal of Honor, one Distinguished Service Cross, and dozens of Silver Stars.
“I’ve never been a part of a unit that values its legacy as much as the 173rd,” said Maj. Rob Haake, the brigade’s Public Affairs Officer. “From the first day that every one of these Sky Soldiers arrives, it’s very clear to them who they represent and what legacy they’re carrying forward from the second they put on our patch.”
As the rain cleared before a courtyard of yellow roses in remembrance, that legacy remains on clear display in today’s Sky Soldiers.