By Spc. Jeffrey Ledesma, 1st Cavalry Division Public AffairsMay 16, 2008
FORT HOOD, Texas - More than five years have passed since a Coalition of military forces of roughly 300,000 marched onto Iraqi soil in the invasion that ended Saddam Hussein's 24-year rule. As operations in Iraq persist, Soldiers continue to pay the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division understand the losses of battle and gathered with Gold Star Families and friends to remember fallen troopers during the division's recent deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom 06-08 at a memorial rededication ceremony held on Cooper Field May 16.
"Our cavalry heritage gives us the strength we need, and on a day like today, we need every bit," said Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger, the division's commanding general.
When the memorial was originally dedicated in 2006, after the division's first Iraq deployment, 168 Soldier's names were etched into the black stone. Now, 493 additional names are immortalized.
"Their names have been inscribed here in a role of honor for all Americans to see, maybe for years, but maybe forever," said Bolger, a Aurora, Ill., native. "This impressive memorial; these names are etched to last.
"They should be because these troopers' deeds are etched in history."
The division's former commander, Lt. Gen. Joseph F. Fil, Jr., currently commanding the 8th United States Army in Korea, made a trip half way around the world to honor the fallen Soldiers.
With his Stetson on his head, Fil chokingly addressed the audience, "We gather to pay tribute to their courage, honor the sacrifice and sanctify their memory."
"This service today, these slabs of (stone), this monument, this ceremony is unique, especially to me," he said. "It is humbling that we stood and fought together."
The Portola Valley, Calif., native pointed out the diversity of the American heroes whose names are cemented into Cavalry history.
"They were from all 50 states and from all walks of life," he explained. "From brand-new, newly-arrived troopers, senior noncommissioned officers to field grade officers.
The Soldiers who died, organized under Multi-National Division - Baghdad during the division's recent campaign in Iraq, represented 29 different brigades and were augmented by Sailors, Airmen, Marines, civilians and Iraqis," said Fil, who commanded the division during their 15-month tour to the Iraqi capital
"The names engraved forever on this monument serve as a reminder to all of us of the determination, dedication and valor of the American fighting hand," he said. "As we carry the memory of the fallen in our hearts, I also want you to carry the pride that people served there earned for your months of selfless sacrifice and service to our nation even as our division prepares again to deploy."
In front of family members wearing shirts and pins decorated with the photos of their fallen heroes, the former commander described the formation of Soldiers who fought in Iraq as "the finest fighting force," he has ever seen.
"Whenever we faced the enemy we won, but those victories came with a cost - the cost was high, but our cause was and is just, and our Soldiers know that and are proud of it," he said.
Although it was an honor to be a part of this, Spc. David Bates said, the cost was definitely felt by everyone.
Bates, an infantryman who deployed with the First Team, said he knew a couple names on the wall. He explained that he didn't get to go to their funerals, the memorial ceremony served as a symbol of closure for him. During the rededication, the Lima, Ohio, native served as an usher, getting face-to-face with family members.
"It was difficult being there, because they were crying and very emotional," said the Soldier with Company A, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st "Ironhorse" Brigade Combat Team, after he handed tissues to tearful families in the risers.
One of those families came all the way from Long Beach, Calif., to pay their respects to their hero, brother, son and father, medic Pfc. David Toomalatai.
"He's a hero in our family. He sets an example for all of us," said his sister Doreen Toomalatai. "I think that's why (the ceremony) was so symbolic. The bells echoed name after name. They seemed to ring on for future generations."
Doreen explained that her brother's heroism will live on in his 2-year-old son, who was less than a year old when his father passed.
Pfc. Toomalatai, along with his fellow comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice, are written into the history books.
"We remember them as they were in our silence, in our prayers," Bolger said.
At the end of the day, America's First Team kept the promise written into the black stone, "Their sacrifice will always be remembered..."