Benjamin Zieske

Benjamin T. Zieske – September 2006 Shipment Honoree

Pfc. Benjamin T. Zieske

Source: By Jason B. Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle


Benjamin T ZieskeBenjamin Zieske was an outgoing kid with little use for rules or authority as a student at Olympic High School in Concord, CA. So principal Rinda Bartley was stunned by the straight-arrow soldier who visited the school a few months ago while on leave from Iraq.

“He was wearing his fatigues. He looked very sharp,” Bartley said of Zieske, who graduated in 2003. “He was very happy. He had a strong sense of mission and was very proud of what he was doing there.”

Army Pfc. Benjamin T. Zieske, 20, was killed Wednesday in an improvised explosive device blast as his unit patrolled Kirkuk on foot, Army officials said Monday.

A small wreath with a black sash reading “Beloved Son” hung on the front porch of the family’s home Monday. Laurie Zieske recalled her son as a “fireball” whose lively Gemini personality and smile — his nickname was “Squints” because his smile was so broad — could light up a room.

“When everybody was kind of down and depressed, he was trying to get everybody up. He had tons of energy,” she said. “He was just a little fireball. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give just to have another moment with him.”

Benjamin T ZieskeZieske joined the Army because he was told he could get a good education through the military.

He was an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. He enlisted in March 2005, arrived at Fort Campbell in July and was deployed to Iraq.

During his short career, Zieske received the National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and Oversees Service Ribbon.

The Army transformed a cocky boy who seemed to be going nowhere into a confident young man with a clear future, said those who knew him.

“He was a student who struggled in school. School wasn’t easy for him,” Bartley recalled, a smile spreading across her face. “He had very strong ideas about things and the way things should be. He was very articulate, very intelligent, and following the rules was not on the top list of his priorities.”

But the Army seemed to give Zieske’s life structure and clear instructions for the way things should be.

Benjamin T ZieskeWhen Zieske visited Olympic High, he impressed students and teachers with his presence, and he talked candidly about his experiences in Iraq, Bartley said.

“He’d dropped a lot of weight, put on a lot of muscle,” she said. “The kids were intrigued and a little disturbed. They hear so much about the war and here he was living it.”

Some students asked Zieske if he was afraid in Iraq.

No, he said, he wasn’t.

“I think that surprised the kids,” said Bartley.

From the Office of the Governor of California

Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Concord Soldier: Pfc. Benjamin Zieske

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Pfc. Benjamin Zieske of Concord:

Benjamin T Zieske“Pfc. Zieske’s courageous service reminds us of the dangers the men and women of our armed forces face daily. Maria and I join all Californians in offering our deepest sympathies to Benjamin’s family and friends for their loss. As we honor his memory we must also keep all of our brave servicemen and women in our thoughts and prayers.”

Zieske, 20, died May 3, 2006 of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated during a dismounted combat patrol in Kiruk, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, KY.

In honor of Pfc. Zieske, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.

Soldier Tributes


“Zieske was probably one of the best guys I knew.  He was always there, dependable, and he could always take a joke.  But my favorite thing about “Z” was that he was always smiling and joking with you.  No one could keep him from laughing for long.”

-SPC James Drebelbis

“Benjamin Zieske, we had some really good times together.  You always found a way to make a real bad day good.  You came to Iraq in high spirits, and kept the Scouts morale high, too.  You keep looking down on us and I’ll keep looking up when I need you.  I love you, man.”

-PFC Scott Laube

“PFC Zieske was one of the Soldiers who sought nothing but self-improvement.  His motivation and perseverance was to be envied by all.  As his team leader, I was in charge of his training.  His battlefield knowledge improved every day to the extent of him training his fellow Soldiers on the things he knew.  There was no greater feeling than when ‘Z Man’ was giving a class on the operation of our team’s equipment.  ‘Z’ was an exemplary Soldier and a role model to us all.”

SGT Gustavo Gutierrez, Team Leader

“PFC Zieske was one of the best Soldiers I ever had.  His attitude and willingness to work was infectious.  He was the life of our platoon.  If you were having a bad day, all you had to do was go talk to ‘the Z Man,’ and you would instantly feel better.  We all loved him and miss him tremendously.  We pray for his family and friends and wish them the best.  May God ease their pain.”

SSG James Auttonberry, Squad Leader

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Benjamin during the month of September 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Benjamin’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Michael Monsoor

Michael A. Monsoor—December 2006 Shipment Honoree

DDG 1001 named for MoH recipient Monsoor

Source: Navy Times  October 31, 2008
By Christopher P. Cavas and Philip Ewing – Staff writers
Posted : Friday Oct 31, 2008 7:30:41 EDT

One of the Navy’s largest new surface warships will bear the name of a Navy SEAL who received the nation’s highest award for valor.

“DDG 1001, the second ship in our newest class of destroyers, will be named after Michael Monsoor,” Navy Secretary Donald Winter said remarks prepared for an address to be given Wednesday night in New York.

“Michael Monsoor’s name will now be linked with one of our nation’s most visible examples of military power — a U.S. Navy warship,” Winter said in the address prepared for a Navy SEAL Warrior Fund dinner.

The Michael Monsoor will be the second DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class advanced destroyer. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding is expected to begin construction of the ship next year at its Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., with delivery projected to take place in 2014.

Master-at-Arms 2nd Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor is one of two sailors awarded the Medal of Honor since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. The first, Lt. Michael Murphy, is the namesake of DDG 112, now under construction at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works of Bath, Maine, and is expected to be delivered in 2011.

Monsoor was one of about 32s SEALs fighting with U.S. Army, Marine Corps and Iraqi troops to take the insurgent-controlled city of Ramadi in September 2006, Dick Couch, author of “The Sheriff of Ramadi,” told Navy Times earlier this year. Rather than make a traditional invasion sweep through the dangerous capital of Anbar province, as U.S. forces had done in the battle of Fallujah, regular and special operations troops advanced piecemeal through neighborhoods in the city, cleared out enemies and held the territory in an “ink-blot strategy,” Couch said.

Monsoor and his SEAL teammates provided reconnaissance and cover for other troops as they fought in the city, and often bore the brunt of intense enemy attacks, Couch said.

On Sept. 29, the day he died, Monsoor was stationed with his machine gun on a rooftop between two SEAL snipers providing cover for an Army unit working in a rail yard. The two men were lying prone, aiming their rifles through holes blasted in the wall, when a grenade sailed onto the rooftop and bounced off Monsoor’s chest.

According to the official Navy biography, there was no way either of the teammates could have escaped.

“He had a clear chance to escape, but in his mind, it was not a choice at all,” President Bush said in April when presenting the medal to Monsoor’s family.

Monsoor dove on the grenade and smothered its explosion, saving the lives of the two SEALs.

Monsoor is the first SEAL to receive the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq. Murphy was posthumously given the award last year after he was killed in Afghanistan making a last radio call to save his four-man squad after an ambush. Monsoor is the fifth service member to receive the Medal of Honor for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Monsoor’s other decorations included the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with combat “V” and the Purple Heart.

Sally Monsoor, Michael’s mother, was expected to attend the New York dinner.

Navy SEAL Dies Saving Comrades

Source:  Associated Press, October 14, 2006

Michael MonsoorCORONADO, Calif. – A Navy SEAL sacrificed his life to save his comrades by throwing himself on top of a grenade Iraqi insurgents tossed into their sniper hideout, fellow members of the elite force said.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor had been near the only door to the rooftop structure Sept. 29 when the grenade hit him in the chest and bounced to the floor, said four SEALs who spoke to The Associated Press this week on condition of anonymity because their work requires their identities to remain secret.

“He never took his eye off the grenade, his only movement was down toward it,” said a 28-year-old lieutenant who sustained shrapnel wounds to both legs that day. “He undoubtedly saved mine and the other SEALs’ lives, and we owe him.”

Monsoor, a 25-year-old gunner, was killed in the explosion in Ramadi, west of Baghdad. He was only the second SEAL to die in Iraq since the war began.

Two SEALs next to Monsoor were injured; another who was 10 to 15 feet from the blast was unhurt. The four had been working with Iraqi soldiers providing sniper security while U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted missions in the area.

In an interview at the SEALs’ West Coast headquarters in Coronado, four members of the special force remembered “Mikey” as a loyal friend and a quiet, dedicated professional.

“He was just a fun-loving guy,” said a 26-year-old Petty Officer 2nd Class who went through the grueling 29-week SEAL training with Monsoor. “Always got something funny to say, always got a little mischievous look on his face.”

Other SEALS described the Garden Grove, Calif., native as a modest and humble man who drew strength from his family and his faith. His father and brother are former Marines, said a 31-year-old Petty Officer 2nd Class.

Prior to his death, Monsoor had already demonstrated courage under fire. He has been posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions May 9 in Ramadi, when he and another SEAL pulled a team member shot in the leg to safety while bullets pinged off the ground around them.

Monsoor’s funeral was held Thursday at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego. He has also been submitted for an award for his actions the day he died.

The first Navy SEAL to die in Iraq was Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc A. Lee, 28, who was killed Aug. 2 in a firefight while on patrol against insurgents in Ramadi. Navy spokesman Lt. Taylor Clark said the low number of deaths among SEALs in Iraq is a testament to their training.

Sixteen SEALs have been killed in Afghanistan. Eleven of them died in June 2005 when a helicopter was shot down near the Pakistan border while ferrying reinforcements for troops pursuing al-Qaida militants.

There are about 2,300 of the elite fighters, based in Coronado and Little Creek, Va.

The Navy is trying to boost that number by 500—a challenge considering more than 75 percent of candidates drop out of training, notorious for “Hell Week,” a five-day stint of continual drills by the ocean broken by only four hours sleep total. Monsoor made it through training on his second attempt.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael A. Monsoor, 25, Garden Grove, California; Navy SEAL Killed in Combat in Ramadi

Source:  By David Reyes, LA Times, October 8, 2006

Navy SEAL Michael A. Monsoor told his family in Garden Grove before he went to Iraq that he knew the dangers of war but he believed in himself and others on his SEAL team, who were like brothers to him.

“He knew what he believed in and would stand by what he believed in. Of this, he couldn’t be corrupted,” said Monsoor’s younger brother, Joe.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, 25, was killed in combat Sept. 29 in Ramadi, Iraq, west of Baghdad. Not much is known of the circumstances surrounding his death, family members said.

Last week, family members spoke of his life and military duty, including his dedication to becoming a SEAL, a goal he achieved after initially dropping out of the training course.

He was expected to return in another week to see his family and watch his 21-year-old brother play in an upcoming football game at North Dakota’s Minot State University, where he is a junior and tight end.

Although they chatted on the telephone, the last time the brothers saw one another was during spring break. That was when they drove cross-country to the university and Michael spoke about the discipline it took to overcome pain during his first SEAL training, which he had to quit.

“Michael had a broken heel and he still had to pass more physical tests,” his brother said. “He was running hard in sand and the pain mounted, but he told himself, ‘Don’t pass out, I can’t pass out.’ But he couldn’t continue.

“He rang the bell,” his brother said, a signal that a trainee has quit the program.

Michael Monsoor stayed in the Navy and waited for another chance. He was assigned to Europe for two years, and when his mother, Sally, visited him in Italy, she said she found him focused, “working out, swimming and running,” so he could reenter the SEAL program.

For Monsoor, it was his chance to join one of the nation’s elite forces, she said, adding that when he finally graduated, it was her son’s and the family’s proudest moment.

The 25-week Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in Coronado, Calif., is one of the most grueling training programs in the military, and the dropout rate exceeds 50%.

As one of the U.S. military’s most elite and secretive fighting units, the SEALs almost never reveal their missions to the public, even long after completion.

In August, when the Pentagon announced the death of Petty Officer 2nd Class Marc Alan Lee, who was the first SEAL to die in the Iraq war, it was the first recognition that the SEALS are involved in the battle to wrest Ramadi from insurgent control.

The loss has shaken the proud Marine family—Michael’s father, George Monsoor, and older brother, Jim, 27, are both former Marines—which has sought solace in knowing that Michael did not die in vain.

Relatives, neighbors and friends have visited the family’s home and left flowers. Neighbors tacked yellow ribbons that read “Support our Troops” on trees and sign posts in recognition of Monsoor.

“He was friendly and would wave whenever he did the lawn outside,” said neighbor Patricia Stanton. “He was nice, very sweet and I know he was dedicated to the service.”

Monsoor enlisted in the Navy in March 2001 and graduated from SEAL training in March 2005, said Lt. Taylor Clark, a Navy spokesman.

Rear Adm. Joe Maguire, a SEAL and commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command, issued a statement praising Monsoor, who died “conducting some of our military’s most important missions.”

“We hope that in time Michael’s family is comforted in knowing that he died fighting for what he believed in and we will not forget his sacrifice,” Maguire said.

Monsoor attended Garden Grove High School, where he played on the Argonaut football team as a tight end and graduated in 1999.

Michael Monsoor

Michael Monsoor shipment

David Day

David F. Day—January 2006 Shipment Honoree

Army SSgt., 25, of Saint Louis Park, Minn.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery, 34th Infantry Division, Minnesota Army National Guard, Montevideo, Minn.; killed Feb. 21, 2005 when an improvised explosive device detonated as he was assisting injured soldiers in his command in Baghdad. Also killed were Army 1st Lt. Jason G. Timmerman and Army Sgt. Jesse M. Lhotka.

Day ‘found his way with duty, honor and courage’

Source: Associated Press and Military Times 

Army Command Sergeant Major Erik Arnie talked about Staff Sgt. David F. Day at a flag-pole dedication ceremony in his honor on July 9 during Pioneer Prairie Days in Minnesota. — Ed.

The date of 21 February 2005 has been etched into the small communities of Western Minnesota, such as Appleton, Marshall and Morris, for all eternity. For it was on that day that the lives of three young, brave men from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery, were sacrificed for their country and their comrades half a world away.

On that morning 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman, Staff Sgt. David Day and Sgt. Jesse Lhotka were conducting what was supposed to be an ordinary mission. The mission turned out to be anything but ordinary.

First Lt. Timmerman, Staff Sgt. Day and Sgt. Lhotka were traveling in the 2nd Echelon of Charlie Company on mission. They had departed the company area at approximately 7 a.m. First Lt. Timmerman and Staff Sgt. Day were in the same Humvee with their driver. Sgt. Lhotka was in another Humvee, with his driver and gunner, that lost control somehow, left the road and began to roll, injuring two soldiers. The small convoy stopped and did what it was trained to do, provide security around the scene and begin assisting the injured. Staff Sgt. David Day, the squad leader of most of those on the scene, did exactly what he was trained to do, take care of his men. After a medevac was called in, the first injured soldier was carried to a helicopter. The second soldier was being carried on a stretcher by 1st Lt. Timmerman; Staff Sgt. Day, Sgt. Lhotka and a soldier from another unit who had also stopped to provide security. As they carried the soldier across the road towards the helicopter an explosion occurred within a few feet of the group. Three soldiers from Western Minnesota died that morning and two others were seriously wounded.

Many of you did not personally know Staff Sgt. David Day — but you did. You know of the boys who grew up from this area; playing ball in the park, riding bikes to the store with a buck from mowing and excitement on what awaited, swimming and fishing in the Pomme de Terre, playing cops and robbers throughout the neighborhood, chasing the fire trucks when they came flashing by, going to Scout camp; and pretending the enemies of America were in the backyard and he was an Army sergeant stopping them in their tracks.

You know of the young men, desiring to be their own man, going off to vocational school or college or joining the service or going to work in the elevator and eventually finding their own way. You know of the those men finding their sweethearts. Oh yes, you know Dave Day — but he was more.

Dave found that serving and protecting was his calling. Whether a police officer with the St. Louis Park Police Department, or a soldier in the Minnesota Army National Guard, or a son and a husband, Dave Day was dedicated to serving and giving back to those who had given to him. Staff Sgt. Day lived out his childhood imaginings and found his own way with duty, honor and courage.

Duty: an act or course of action required of one by position, custom, law or regulation. Moral obligation: the compulsion felt to meet such obligations. These are just a few of the definitions listed in most dictionaries.

On the morning of 21 February 2005, Staff Sgt. Day was performing his duty. More than just the duty that he swore to the day he pledged the oath to serve his president and country. He was doing the duties of a warrior. “I will always place the mission first.” He was out on a mission; helping to protect and secure the new state of Iraq. He did not hesitate to accept this mission when the Charlie Company commander issued it, therefore placing the mission ahead of himself. “I will never accept defeat.” He did not accept defeat; when one of his own teams lost a vehicle, he reacted quickly to recover his soldiers and vehicle and attempted to continue on with the assigned mission.

Honor: personal integrity maintained without legal or other obligations;

“I will never quit.” He certainly did not quit just because something had gone wrong — he obligated himself to carry on as did the rest of his squad from Company C to set up security around the perimeter of the scene and help his comrades.

Courage: Some say that courage is the lack of fear. I say courage is having fear, but knowing and understanding your fear — using it to motivate you and knowing how to put it aside when duty calls. Staff Sgt. Day certainly overcame any fears when he assessed the situation and reacted in a way to assist his men. “I will never leave a fallen comrade.”

It is right that we pay tribute to Staff Sgt. David Day and place a memorial within his community — but not just as a reminder of a boy, a man, a son and a husband, but that of a servant with duty, honor and courage — to those he loved dearly and those he served bravely.

I am honored and proud to be a part of this event. And to Amy, David and Vickie — on behalf of the 1st Battalion 151st Field Artillery, the community of Morris, the state of Minnesota and the Army National Guard, the St. Louis Park Police and friends — thank you for letting all of us know Dave.

He will be forever remembered!

Minnesota Towns Honor Fallen Soldier

MORRIS, Minn. — Two by two, a procession of 110 squad cars with lights flashing drove slowly and silently through this western Minnesota city. A Blackhawk helicopter flew over the procession, flying low enough to create a stir of dust. And when a white hearse carrying Staff Sgt. David Day drove by, people laid down pink, red and peach roses on the streets of Morris in tribute to a Minnesota soldier who laid down his life last week in Iraq.

Day, 25, a Morris native who was a St. Louis Park police officer, was one of three members of the same Minnesota National Guard unit who were killed Feb. 21 by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. Separate funerals were held earlier in the week for 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman of Tracy, and Sgt. Jesse Lhotka of Alexandria. Gov. Tim Pawlenty and first lady Mary Pawlenty attended all of the funerals.

After the procession passed Thursday, the crowd dissipated, leaving a line of roses behind them. “It kind of just overwhelms you, there’s so much support here,” said Carolyn Smith, who held an American flag.

Day, the youngest child of David and Vicki Day, was remembered as a hardworking, good-humored and courageous young man.

An estimated 1,000 people packed Assumption Catholic Church for Day’s funeral. Their ranks included more than 250 law enforcement members from 70 agencies, including 65 from the St. Louis Park Police Department, which swore in Day in February 2004, and the staffs of the Morris police and Stevens County sheriff’s departments. Day had also worked as a community service officer in Morris. Seating and closed-circuit televisions were set up in the church basement and at St. Mary’s School to accommodate the large numbers.

The Rev. Alan Wielinski shared family stories about Day and reiterated that Day had “laid down his life for his friends.” The three soldiers were killed while coming to the aid of injured comrades. “The selfless service of David, and countless other soldiers like him, gives witness to some of the very best of human qualities: courage, faithfulness, selflessness, steadfastness, loyalty and love unto death,” he said.

Stevens County Sheriff Randy Willis said Day was a “great kid.”

“A lot of people are liked. A lot of people are respected. But it’s hard to be both,” Willis said. “He pulled it off.”

Capt. Kirk DiLorenzo of the St. Louis Park Police Department worked with Day for two years. He stood on the church steps while Day’s coffin was brought in and out. “All of the officers are heartbroken,” he said.

Day married his longtime girlfriend, Amy Gulbrandson, 12 days before his deployment in October. Sgt. 1st Class James Howe was Day’s first sergeant and knew Day for about five years. “He’s not only a good soldier, but a good individual, a great person,” Howe said before the funeral. “The kind of guy you’d want your daughter to marry.”

Before the procession, Brian Brummond, of Morris, spoke of his “very hard emotions.” His son, Joshua, 23, is in Day’s unit — the Montevideo-based 151st Field Artillery — and was assigned to gather the personal belongings of Day, Timmerman and Lhotka to be sent back home. “He said it was one of the hardest things he’s had to do,” Brummond said.

— Associated Press

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember David during the month of January 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with David’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Frederick Pokorney

Frederick E. Pokorney, Jr.—November 2006 Shipment Honoree

Marine 1st Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney, 31, of Tonopah, Nev.; assigned to the Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; killed in action near Nasiriyah, Iraq on March 23, 2003.

“Gentle giant” of a Marine mourned

Source:  Arlington National Cemetary Website

CAMP LEJEUNE — When Chelle Pokorney saw her husband, Second Lieutenant Frederick E. Pokorney, off to Kuwait, something told her she wouldn’t see him again. “When he left, I knew he wasn’t coming home,” she said Wednesday at Camp Lejeune. “He didn’t have to tell me. I had a feeling.”

Pokorney died Sunday in battle near An Nasiriyah with eight other Lejeune Marines. He was a field artillery leader and was likely a forward observer with the 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment.

Chelle, a part-time nurse at Onslow Memorial Hospital, spoke to reporters Wednesday. It was her first public comment since she found out her husband was killed by Iraqi forces during an ambush.

Her voice quaking at times, she called her husband a “gentle giant” and said he loved his family, the Marine Corps and the Oakland Raiders. She said he was an honorable man, who lived up to the Marine Corps’ standards of “honor, courage and commitment.”

Frederick Pokrney familyShe couldn’t explain why she knew she would never see her husband again when his bus pulled away for the first part of the journey to his deployment to the Persian Gulf and war with Iraq. “I think it was the love that we had,” she said.

But she couldn’t ask him not to go. “What can I do?” she asked. “He was a Marine. He did what he loved.”

The news has been hard on their 2-year-old daughter, Taylor Rochelle, “his spitting image,” she said. “She is hurting now,” she said. “My daughter is going to suffer not having a father, but she had him for a very short time.”

Frederick Pokorney is going to get a full military funeral in Arlington National Cemetery, with all the honors befitting a hero, she said.

She said it was important to support the families of Marines deployed in Iraq now. Most of them receive little contact while their husbands are deployed in conflict. “The wives are brave,” she said. “We need to support them as a nation.”

Chelle last spoke with her husband on March 4. It wasn’t their anniversary, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to call her later, and he wanted her to know how much he loved her, she said. Their seventh wedding anniversary would have been Saturday. “That call was a blessing,” she said.

She said it was also important to remember the Marines who are still in Iraq. “There are many Marines that are still over there,” she said. “My husband led them until it was his time.”

In memory of Nevada’s first known casualty in the war with Iraq

Source:  Arlington National Cemetery Website 

TONOPAH, NEVADA — Fred Pokorney became a star by shooting hoops on the high school basketball court, and Friday the town gathered in that same gym to share stories, shed tears, and offer hugs in memory of Nevada’s first known casualty in the war with Iraq.

“Fred was a hero,” Wade Lieseke, who served as a surrogate father for Pokorney since his high school days, said after the hour-long memorial service. “He died a hero, and he’ll always be a hero to all of us. We’ll miss him for the rest of our lives.”

First Lieutenant. Frederick E. Pokorney Jr. was killed Sunday outside An Nasiriyah when Iraqi soldiers appeared to surrender but then opened fire. Eight other Marines, also from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina., died in the attack.

He leaves behind his wife, Chelle, and their 2-year-old daughter, Taylor. He is scheduled to be buried April 14 at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Tonopah High School was an important part of his life,” Principal Barbara Floto told about 350 children, students, veterans and residents lining the bleachers, many carrying small U.S. flags. “He gave and took valuable memories. Those of us who knew Fred will treasure his very being,” she added. “We pay tribute to a young man who will always be a part of us.” Floto then signaled student body president Beth Gaydon to present the Lieseke family with 31 red roses for each of Pokorney’s 31 years.

Pokorney grew up in the Bay Area with his father, Fred Pokorney, but when he was 16, he moved to Tonopah to live with an aunt. When she died, the young man joined the Lieseke family, although he was never legally adopted. “I didn’t have to — he was just our boy,” Lieseke said.

He excelled in sports — his 6-foot 7-inch, 220-pound muscular physique landed him top spots on the varsity football and basketball teams. And he endeared himself to many in this isolated mining-military town of 3,500 people in the eastern Nevada desert. Many cried during the service and stood with arms around each other afterward. “It’s a very small community, so it hits us hard,” local resident June Downs said after the ceremony.

“He was a good guy, a caring guy, considerate of others,” added his former classmate J.D. Gray. “I saw him at our high school reunion and he was excited about being in the service. He was doing what he wanted to do.”

The Rev. Kenneth Curtis offered some comfort by reading from Ecclesiastes — a passage entitled “a time for everything.” “Everything that happens, happens at a time of God’s choosing,” he said. “A time to be born and a time to die. A time to kill and a time to heal…”

It seemed the most fitting thing to say when you’re looking for answers and there are none, he said. “It’s hell when you have to bury your kids,” he said after the service.

The school’s choir then sang “Tears in Heaven,” a song Eric Clapton wrote when his young son died in an accident. As Lieseke wept throughout the song, his daughter, Christina Uribe, rested her head on her father’s shoulder. Her dad stroked her hair.

“Words can’t express what they’ve endured in the last week,” Christina’s husband, Staff Sergeant Joe Uribe, said after the gathering.

Pokorney, who went to the Middle East as a Second lieutenant, was promoted posthumously effective the date of his death, the Pentagon told the Associated Press. He had been selected for a promotion, but had not received official word before his death.

Fred Pokorney’s uncle, Gary Pokorney of Custer, North Dakota, said he has been in contact with the Marine’s biological father, who now lives in the Midwest. He is saddened by his son’s death, the uncle said, referring to the junior Fred Pokorney by a family nickname: Benny.

“He’s OK,” Gary Pokorney said Friday in a telephone interview. “He regrets not being able to see him in recent years. He’s disturbed that he died, but believes he died for a good cause,” the uncle added.

14 April 2003:


Frederick PokrneyShortly after Lieutenant Frederick Pokorney was buried Monday at Arlington National Cemetery, his 2 1/2-year-old daughter clutched the tightly folded flag that had just covered the dead Marine’s casket. “Where’s daddy?” Taylor asked her mother, Carolyn Rochelle Pokorney, as the two knelt beside the casket for a final goodbye.

In a funeral service under a cloudless sky, Pokorney became the first Marine from Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at the cemetery in Arlington, Virginia—hallowed ground for the nation’s war dead. The 1989 Tonopah High School graduate was the first soldier from Nevada to die in the war on Iraq.

Pokorney, who was buried with full military honors, was killed in combat at Nasiriyah last month. Marine Lance Corporal Donald John Cline, 21, of Sparks was confirmed dead this weekend from wounds he received in the same battle.

During a Catholic Mass before the graveside ceremony, family friend Larry Mullins said the tall 31-year-old Pokorney was a “gentle giant” with a “real sense of compassion.”

“He was silent and strong,” Mullins said. “He was confident. He made you feel safe and secure.” Mullins said Pokorney shouldn’t be forgotten. His bravery had made everyone proud.

“All in all it’s quite a life to celebrate,” Mullins said. “We won’t see a flag … without thinking of the sacrifice he made.” Well done, Marine. Semper Fi.”

About 150 mourners gathered to remember Pokorney, including a number of Marines. Among others paying tribute was the man Pokorney considered his adoptive father, former Nye County Sheriff Wade Lieseke. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Rep. Jon Porter, R-Nev. also attended.

Six horses drew the caisson carrying the flag-draped casket to Section 60, grave No. 7861 of the cemetery. A 25-piece Marine band and full honor guard marched in step behind. A seven-man rifle team fired a traditional three-round volley and a bugler played Taps.

Marine Brigadier General Maston Robeson presented the folded flag to Pokorney’s wife.

Pokorney is survived by his wife and daughter, who live in Jacksonville, North Carolina, near Camp Lejeune, where Pokorney was stationed. He had been assigned to the Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.

As a teenager, Pokorney lived in Tonopah, Nevada, a small mining town midway between Las Vegas and Reno. He lived with Lieseke during part of his high school years after his mother died and his father left town to find work. Lieseke considered Pokorney a son. One of the last letters Pokorney wrote arrived at Lieseke’s home three days after the Marine died March 23.

Pokorney was a standout high school athlete in Tonopah, starring in basketball and football, and earning townspeople’s respect for his work ethic and self-reliance. Several hundred turned out to remember him last month at a memorial service.

Pokorney graduated from Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, before beginning his military service.

In an interview published Monday in the Daily News of Jacksonville, North Carolina, Pokorney’s widow said he told her before he left for the war, “No matter what, you have to keep on going and be Taylor’s best friend.”

Chelle Pokorney, 32, told the paper that she knew even as she embraced her husband a final time that she would have to make good on that promise.

She said the couple visited Arlington National Cemetery during a 2001 Memorial Day trip to Washington, D.C. Her grandfather, an Air Force colonel, and her great-uncle, an Air Force general, are both buried at Arlington, and she recalled Fred Pokorney saying during that trip, “I want to be buried here. It would be an honor.”

Frederick E. Pokorney, Jr.

Source: Honor the Fallen—Associated Press (orginal link –

Frederick Pokorney Jr. started his career as an enlisted man. He ended it as an officer.

At 6-foot-6, Pokorney played center on a Tonopah, Nev., High School basketball team that went 14-9 and was runner-up for the state championship in 1989. “He was a nice looking, tall, muscular kid,” said Joann Cody, assistant sheriff in Nye County, Nev.

Pokorney had taken care of himself for many years. His mother left when he was 1½, said his father, Fred Pokorney, Sr., who lives in Branson, Mo. The elder Pokorney had not spoken to his son in more than five years. “It’s sad, but I don’t know much about his life,” his father said. “He had his own life and didn’t want to have much to do with me.”

Pokorney moved to Nevada when his father, a construction worker, got a temporary job at a missile test range near Tonopah. After his father left, his son stayed, living with the local sheriff and his basketball coach. “He was my son,” former sheriff Wade Lieseke said.

From there, Pokorney made his own way in life. People who knew him say he a very good person — independent, polite, friendly. “He was a good student, very diligent,” said Art Johnson, who taught him auto mechanics for two years.

He enlisted in the Marines and enrolled in the ROTC program at Oregon State University in 1997 to become an officer, a university spokesman said. He majored in anthropology and graduated in 2001.

He is survived by his wife, Rochelle, a young daughter, a brother and a sister.

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Frederick during the month of November 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Frederick’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Sam Williams Huff

Sam Williams Huff —October 2006 Shipment Honoree

Memorial for Pfc. Sam Huff: Mourners honor “best female soldier”

Mountain View grad killed by blast in Iraq

Source: By C.T. Revere, Tucson Citizen (Tuesday, April 26, 2005)


Sam HuffSam HuffSam Huff was an unlikely soldier in the eyes of those who knew her just months ago as a classmate and drum major at Mountain View High School. Even those who paved the way for the Tucson teen to enter the U.S. Army had a hard time envisioning the petite brunette with a gleaming smile as a member of their own ranks.

But to the Army sergeant who cradled the 18-year-old in her dying moments on a dusty highway outside Baghdad, Pfc. Sam Williams Huff was the kind of soldier to boast about. When Private Huff became my husband’s soldier, he was so proud to have her on his team,” Californian Erica James said yesterday at a memorial service where about 850 people celebrated Huff’s short life.

Huff died April 17, 2005 in the arms of Sgt. Sam James, her team leader with the 504th Military Police Battalion, after a roadside bomb ripped through the armored vehicle she was driving.

Erica James flew from Los Angeles to share her husband’s impressions of Huff as a soldier with those who knew her only as a friend, classmate, sister or daughter. “He would always come home from work talking about how motivated she is and how quickly she learned everything. He couldn’t stop saying, ‘Erica, I have the best female soldier in my company,’ ” she said, fighting back tears. “My husband was honored to have Private Huff as his soldier.”

For nearly two hours, Huff was honored during a memorial service at Casas Adobes Baptist Church in Oro Valley. It painted a portrait of a girl who loved music, had scores of close friends and was scarcely removed from student life.

On one side of the speaker’s lectern sat her feathered drum major’s helmet, on the other her canvas-shrouded Army helmet. Her parents, retired Tucson police Detective Robert Huff and Oro Valley police employee Margaret Williams, sat in the front row with other relatives and close friends. Behind them sat scores of mourners in military and police uniforms. In front of them on stage was the entire Mountain View marching band.

A video tribute to Huff shared photographs from infancy to soldier, accompanied by Bob Carlisle’s song “Butterfly Kisses,” a ballad about a father reminiscing on his daughter’s wedding day.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Colon-Mateo recalled the day Huff walked into the Army’s Foothills Recruiting Station in Marana. “When Sam came into our office, all of 16 and 99 pounds, talking about ‘I want to be in the Army,’ we looked at each other and went ‘Mmm hmm, yeah,’ “he said.

But before long, Huff showed the recruiters she had what it takes to be a soldier, Sgt. Roger Jackson said. “She was enthusiastic, energetic, very motivated,” Jackson said. “Anybody who was around her knew how contagious it was.”

Student after student stepped to microphones to share stories, read poems, shed tears and say goodbye. One young woman recalled the day she met Huff, who ushered her to the school nurse’s office after a playground spill. Another remembered being a frightened freshman who was introduced to Huff’s silly side. “She crossed her eyes, stuck out her tongue and did the Chicken Dance,” the teen said. Another female classmate recalled her as “gorgeous, kick-ass and fun.”

Former teachers noted Huff’s blend of maturity and playfulness. “She’s probably one of the top three beautiful people I’ve ever known,” said Shannon Gibson, Huff’s eighth-grade English teacher. “She was smart and beautiful and funny, and she would laugh with me when other kids were doing stupid things.”

Jeremy Vega, a former bandmate, wondered how Huff is being received in heaven. “How does God react when one of his angels comes back to Him so soon?” he said. “I miss her.”

Jennifer DeMille, a junior at Mountain View, saw indications of Huff’s leadership in her freshman year with the school’s marching band. “We had two lines across the field. I was in front, and Sam was behind me, and I remember her saying, ‘Boots up! Boots up!’ ” she said.

Huff’s brother, Sean, said she was “a hero to all of us.” “Sam gave her life for everybody in this room, Arizona and the United States. Sam gave her life for the freedoms that you and I take for granted every day,” he said.

Huff will be buried Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Sam Williams Huff

Source: Arlington National Cemetery Website
1 May 2005:
Pfc. Sam Williams Huff
Pfc. Sam Williams Huff

Facing the highest ever casualty rate for servicewomen in its history, America is considering making official what is already a reality—allowing women to fight on the front line in war.

The ground war in Iraq has made the historical tradition of not having women in combat unworkable. A total of 35 US servicewomen have now died in Iraq and 271 have been injured. It is a small percentage of the 1,500 US service personnel fatalities and the 11,600 wounded, but these women are being killed and injured under enemy fire.

Three days ago army private Sam Huff was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. She was 18 and died on 18 April 2005 when her convoy was blown up by a roadside bomb. “Beneath that beautiful young lady was a backbone of steel,” her sergeant, Sam Jones, wrote in a letter read aloud at her hometown funeral in Tucson, Arizona.

Huff’s parents reluctantly let her join the army when she was 16 and she quickly gained a reputation for enthusiasm and grit. “She’s the bravest kid I’ve ever known,” said her father, Robert Huff. “She was up and down that damned road between Baghdad and the airport, which is notorious for improvised explosive devices. But she knew the risks and believed in the mission.”

Photos Courtesy of the Family

Sam Williams Huff

Source: Arlington National Cemetery Website

May 4, 2005

Pfc. Dan Balda
4th Brigade Combat Team PAO

“You know what Lathers? I could have been the next Gap girl. I had a modeling contract and everything. But no, look at me I’m in this awful country, wearing (desert combat uniforms), carrying around a weapon wherever I go and fighting for my country,” said Private First Class Ashley Lathers, a military policeman, 170th Military Police Company.

Private First Class Sam Huff in an undated photo
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Dan Balda)

Sam Huff

“I can’t count how many times Private Huff said this to me day after day. Always with a smile and a laugh after she said it. Followed by, ‘I wouldn’t change where I’m at for anything.’ That’s the kind of person she was. In all honesty she was a model; a model Soldier.”

Lathers was talking about her ‘sister,’ Private Sam Huff, at Huff’s memorial service, April 22. Huff was killed while returning from the al Dora police station when the vehicle she was traveling in was struck by an improvised explosive device.

According to her battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel James Switzer, she was not a typical Soldier. “Within two weeks of her arriving in our unit, even I knew who she was,” Switzer said. “Battalion commanders get to know their Soldiers for two reasons. They got in trouble or they are very unique individuals. Private Huff was a unique individual. Her smile could light up a room. She could lighten the mood of any hardcore (noncommissioned officer) and even bring a smile to an old warrior’s face.”

Sam HuffSwitzer told his fellow Soldiers that he had spoken to Huff’s parents. They told him they knew their daughter might perish in combat, but that Huff fSW Huff PHOTOelt she was doing what she always wanted to do; serve in the United States Army. Huff felt she was in the right place, doing the right thing, with the right people.

Lathers shared many fond memories of huff with her fellow Dragonslayers as well as the assembled mourners. “If you knew Sam at all, you knew her two loves; dancing and her fiancé Nick,” Lathers said. “That girl would dance any time she got the chance, I’d catch her dancing in our room, dancing down the hall. She danced with a confidence and grace most people lack. 18 is a tender age to leave this world. But know this, she lived a life that many people only dream about.”

Huff’s team leader, Sergeant Sam James praised her for her beauty as well as her brains. “Her thirst for knowledge sometimes overwhelmed me as a leader, leaving me scrambling to answer question after question,” James said. “She was also a beautiful young lady, the kind that would turn heads in the mall.”

James continued to extol the virtues of his Soldier. “You would be hard pressed to find a Soldier that could learn and retain knowledge as fast as she did,” James said. “If I wrote down every positive quality I’d want in a Soldier, Huff would still be better. She was the kind of Soldier that made being a leader in the Army fun.”

Captain Robert Matthews, Huff’s company commander, described which of Huff’s many qualities he will miss the most. “She was a quiet professional who took her job seriously,” Matthews said. “Her dedication to duty and pursuit of excellence was an example for us all to emulate. Sam was a brave and honorable woman. She did her duty without complaint and earned nothing but respect and admiration from those of us that served with her. Her death was tragic and has left a void that will never be filled.”

Switzer mentioned that Huff will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, an appropriate resting place for a young hero. “I can bet you the sun will be shining that day (the day she will be laid to rest), and up in heaven a bunch of old warriors will be smiling.”

Slain Soldier Reached Beyond Expectations

Source: By Ian Shapira, Courtesy of the Washington Post (Friday, April 29, 2005)


Not many people, including her parents, considered Sam W. Huff to be obvious Army material. She was petite—just over 5 feet tall—didn’t play any major sports and was best known at Tucson’s Mountain View High School for her striking beauty and sharp fashion sense.

But the marching band drum major was also feisty and persistent, a conductor with a loud voice and commanding presence. With relatives who had served in the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the 18-year-old had precise career goals: a tour of duty in the military, a college degree in psychology and a job at the FBI profiling criminals. After graduating from high school last year, Huff completed the grueling months of basic training and then, around Christmas, visited her old stomping grounds before being deployed to Iraq.

“She told me basic training was really hard, how she was having problems with her knee and that they tried talking her out of the Army,” said Ellen Kirkbride, band director at Mountain View. “But she pleaded with them to stay. She would have felt as if she failed. She was tough.”

On April 18, 2005, Private First Class Huff died in Baghdad from injuries she received the night before when the Humvee she was driving was hit by a roadside bomb, according to the Army. Yesterday, she became the 130th soldier killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. She was a member of the 170th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade, based at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Her parents, Robert Huff, 50, a retired police detective-turned-musician, and Margaret Williams, 52, a former Marine and communications supervisor for a suburban Tucson police department, accepted the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Good Conduct Medal on her behalf during the service.

Robert Huff, who spoke with Army officials about the circumstances of his daughter’s death, said that she had spent the night of April 17 guarding an Iraqi police station. She and others in her unit were headed back to their base on the outskirts of Baghdad when an improvised explosive devise detonated next to the Humvee’s driver’s side. Huff was the only one seriously injured, according to Major Elizabeth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman.

The blast severed Huff’s leg, and “there was nothing anyone could do and she bled to death,” Robert Huff said. Huff was supposed to operate the machine gun on the top of the Humvee, he said, but she was not strong enough to load the weapon quickly. So, the petite soldier with a penchant for Disney ballads learned how to pilot the monstrous Humvee.

Teachers at Mountain View High said the community has been crushed by her death. At a recent memorial service at Casas Adobes Baptist Church in Tucson, the marching band played two of her favorite ballads, Kirkbride said: one from “Beauty and the Beast,” another from “The Little Mermaid.” On the stage, a black marching band hat—adorned with a plume of black and silver feathers—sat next to her combat helmet, Kirkbride said.

Robert Huff said he’ll never forget what an Army official told him about his daughter’s last moments. As she was bleeding, she told a sergeant next to her that she wanted him to pass along a message to her parents. “He said, ‘No, you’ll be able to make the call yourself.’ Then she said: ‘No, I don’t think I can make it. Tell my mom I love her, and tell my Dad good luck with his album.’ ”

Sam Williams Huff was barely a year out of her drum major’s uniform, prom dress and high school graduation cap and gown in April when she was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Her father remembers the 18-year-old Fort Lewis military policewoman as a “girlie girl and a soldier’s soldier.” In 10 months, she journeyed from the teenage dramas of high school to the real life drama of Iraq, where her sergeant cradled her in his arms after a bomb exploded by her Humvee.

“She couldn’t have turned out any better,” said her father, Bob, 51, a retired Tucson police officer. “I’m prejudiced as hell, but she was as close to perfect as anyone could have been. She was just beautiful inside and out.”

Sam Huff is one of the 2,000 men and women in uniform who have died in Iraq and one of 107 with ties to Washington, reflecting in part this state’s strong military presence in the war. In the last two years, 8,000 soldiers from two Fort Lewis Stryker brigades and 4,000 Washington National Guardsmen with the 81st Combat Brigade Combat Team have been in Iraq. Those units have returned, but smaller units from Washington bases, as well as the state’s National Guard and Reserve segments, continue to deploy. Perhaps more than 2,000 are there now.

Many who died were like Huff, young, committed and willing to serve. They left behind families who alternately worried and waited and now grieve and search for answers. “I don’t know what 2,000 means to me other than it’s too damn many,” Bob Huff said. The Huffs feel for such parents as Cindy Sheehan who channel their grief into efforts against the war, but they think such protests are misplaced. “You can’t blame anybody but the enemy for what happens,” Bob Huff said.

Bob Huff served 25 years as a Tucson police officer before retiring last year to make his longtime passion, the guitar, a career. His wife, Maggie Williams, who served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam 35 years ago, works for the Oro Valley (Ariz.) Police Department. She is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.

They called their daughter Sam. It was her name, not her nickname.

“In school when she wanted to do something, she excelled,” Huff’s father said, recalling her performance in a dance group. “She had a smile as big as (the grill of) an Edsel.”

Huff surprised her parents when she made up her mind to join the Army. It was a means to an education and a future in the FBI, but “she and her fellow soldiers have embraced an ideal of duty, honor and country in a big way,” he said.

Despite 12- to 15-hour days at war, she was enrolled in online college courses. “She was definitely a girlie girl but was tough and driven. She had a great heart,” her father said.

“When it happened to Sam there were a lot of broken hearts over there,” Huff recalled. “She was known to everyone from the colonel on down. She just was a go-getter and stuck out in a crowd. They called her an ‘exceptional soldier.’ ”

When she was laid to rest at Arlington, Huff’s mother had her own Marine Corps dress blues put into Sam’s coffin. She said, “Bury them with her because I have no one to give them to now.”

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Sam during the month of Oct 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Sam’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Douglas A. DiCenzo

Douglas A. DiCenzo —August 2006 Shipment Honoree

Road bomb in Iraq kills principal’s son

The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

Douglas DiCenzoArmy Capt. Douglas DiCenzo, son of popular Orange Grove Elementary School Principal Larry DiCenzo, was killed Thursday in Iraq when his Humvee drove over a roadside bomb.  DiCenzo, who was 30 years old, was “a born leader,” his father said. “He knew what he wanted to do in life and went after it.”
Doug DiCenzo & familyA company commander in the 1st Armored Division, DiCenzo went to Iraq in November.  He had been stationed in Germany.  He was married to Nicole DiCenzo. The couple had a 16-month-old son, Dakin or “Dak.”

DiCenzo graduated from Plymouth High School in Plymouth, N.H., in 1995 and from West Point in 1999. He ranked fifth in his class at Plymouth and was an all-state offensive guard for the state-champion Bobcat football team, according to the Manchester (N.H.) Union-Leader.

Larry DiCenzo said his son decided when he was a sophomore in high school that he wanted to pursue a military career and never wavered from that decision.

The news of DiCenzo’s death stunned and saddened the staff Friday at Orange Grove Elementary.  Curt Norman, the West Ashley school’s assistant principal, called a meeting at the end of the school day so the staff could try to make some sense of the news.  First, with the efficiency of teachers, staffers briefly discussed managing the rest of the school year without their leader.  Then, with the hearts of parents, sons and daughters, they talked about how they could help their principal, his family, the school and each other.

Larry DiCenzo recently married Anne DiCenzo, principal at Mitchell Elementary School in downtown Charleston.  “We are family and this is a family loss,” said Tish Carter, a teaching assistant at Orange Grove.

The meeting Friday felt like a gathering of family pulling together to do its best at a time when everyone was feeling their worst.  Tears rolled, and some who had suffered losses shared what helped them most.  Patty Kay, a kindergarten teacher, said she’s deeply concerned about Larry DiCenzo. “Larry is a passionate, demonstrative person,” she said. “When he feels something, he feels it deeply. So, when he’s sad, he’s very, very sad.”  But, she said, he can count on the staff to take care of the school. “We’ll keep doing what we have to do here. We share his pain, and we’ll pull him back up.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or  It was printed via the web on 5/27/2006 10:50:39 PM . This article  appeared in The Post and Courier and updated online at on Saturday, May 27, 2006.

NH’s DiCenzo remembered as true leader

Union Leader Staff  (Manchester, NH)

Plymouth – Army Capt. Douglas Andrew DiCenzo was remembered in his hometown yesterday as an extremely intelligent and caring young man, who was fearless and driven to lead.  Family said the 30-year-old West Point graduate died when the Humvee he was in hit a roadside bomb about 2 p.m. Thursday in the streets of southern Baghdad.

In Plymouth, where graves of fallen soldiers were being decorated yesterday for Memorial Day, the news came as a harsh reminder of the war in Iraq.  DiCenzo was company commander for C Company in the 1st Armored Division 2nd Brigade based in Baumholder, Germany. He lived with his wife, Nichole, and toddler son, Dakin, in Germany.  But according to his stepfather, Mark Burzynski, DiCenzo said if he were killed in action, he wanted to be buried in Plymouth.

DiCenzo’s death marked the third New Hampshire soldier to die in Iraq this month.  Burzynski, of Plymouth, said a funeral service will be held here, likely sometime next week.  He said yesterday the family was continuing to get information in bits and pieces about what happened and when the body would be returned.

Douglas DiCenzoFlags flew at half-staff at Plymouth Regional High School yesterday. Principal Bruce Parsons called DiCenzo “a true, all-American.”  Graduating in the top five of his class, with a 94.6 academic average, DiCenzo was president of the Plymouth Class of 1995, captain of the football and wrestling teams. He led the Bobcat gridders to the state championship in his senior year. He also was a school board representative from the high school and was a member of the National Honor Society.

He considered only military academies for college and was accepted by the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1999.  He was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq in November but had trained the past few years at Fort Benning, Ga., and in Fairbanks, Alaska, friends said.

On Main Street in Plymouth, DiCenzo was remembered for his caring nature, a man devoid of ego, fearless and a leader by example who saw in the military a way to hone his strengths and interest in leadership.  “Probably the reason he was drawn to this was his outgoing and caring personality,” said Scott Biederman of Holderness. “He was an enthusiastic type who had no fear . . . There was no middle ground.  “He obviously knew what he was getting himself into,” Biederman said. “His leadership skills were his strength.”

Prayers for his family and the military were said at an 8 a.m. Mass at St. Matthew Catholic Church.  At Plymouth Elementary School, where DiCenzo’s mother, Cathy Crane, is a fifth-grade teacher, efforts were being put in motion to create a scholarship in his name. The family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made payable to the DiCenzo Fund and sent to Plymouth Elementary School, 43 Old Ward Bridge Road, Plymouth NH 03264.  Burzynski urged people not to send flowers but to consider instead a scholarship gift.  “Flowers will be donated to local nursing homes,” if they arrive, he said.

Friends were rallying around the family and trying to do what they could to ease the blow.  Patti Biederman recalled DiCenzo as a small boy and how she watched him and his brother Daniel grow. She said she became good friends with his family when they were in the same babysitting cooperative.

Larry DiCenzo, the soldier’s father, was principal of Plymouth and Campton elementary schools. Crane has been a teacher for many years. When the boys were about 2 and 5, Biederman said, their parents divorced. Larry DiCenzo now lives in Charleston, S.C., and has remarried. Mark Burzynski and Cathy Crane live in Plymouth.

Norm LeBlanc, a guidance counselor at Plymouth Regional High School and DiCenzo’s Little League coach, said DiCenzo was among the finest people the community has produced in his 37 years in education.  “The parents did a fantastic job with them, and they did not skip a beat,” LeBlanc said.  Had DiCenzo lived a full life, LeBlanc would not have been surprised to see him become a U.S. senator, he said.  “He would always say the right thing. He was very thoughtful and caring,” LeBlanc said. “A true leader.”

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Douglas during the month of August 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Douglas’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Christopher Thompson

Christopher W. Thompson—July 2006 Shipment Honoree

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class, age 25, of N. Wilkesboro, North Carolina.; assigned to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 8th Regimental Combat Team, 2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Forces Atlantic, based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; killed in action on October 21, 2005 from an IED explosion while conducting Combat operations against enemy forces in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq.

Wilkes County, North Carolina Sailor Killed in Iraq

Source: Associated Press

Hospitalman 3rd Class Chris Thompson and another member of the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) were killed in the bombing near Amiriyah, 25 miles west of Baghdad. Thompson, 25, was riding in the left rear seat of an armored vehicle when an improvised explosive device was set off, his parents, Larry and Geraldine Thompson.

Thompson’s executive officer said he was proud to go to war with Thompson, his brother, David Thompson said.

“He knew if something happened, he’d take care of them,” David Thompson said. “If things were worst, he’d be the first one to step up.” David Thompson also is a Navy corpsman assigned to the Marines.

When Thompson came home from his first combat tour, he was asked how he managed to insert an IV in someone’s arm on a battlefield while bullets were crackling by and bombs were exploding. “He said, ‘All I can tell you is I haven’t missed yet. When you’ve got somebody dying, you’ve got to do what you can do,” Larry Thompson said.

During his first tour from March 2004 to October 2004, Thompson helped four Marines hurt when a bomb exploded beside the Humvee in front of his. A fifth Marine, his best friend, died in his arms.

At home, he talked to his father about still seeing the faces of those who had died. Larry Thompson, an Army veteran, said he still sees the faces of those who died when he was in Vietnam.

“I don’t want to forget them,” he says he told his son. “I want to remember them and honor them.

“You do the best you can and come home. That’s all you can do.”

Thompson joined the Navy when he was 21. He finished basic training three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was sent to the USS Austin. Eighteen months later, he started corpsman training.

Thompson’s mother remembered him as a funny boy. As a teenager, he would sneak her convertible out to take his friends for a ride, she said. She never told him she knew.

He played football and baseball at North Wilkes High School, and hoped to study at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. when his military duty ended. He wanted to become a coach and teacher, his family said.

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher W. Thompson

Source: The Gazette

Chris Thompson kept a level head as a Navy hospital corpsman, even amid the violence and bloodshed of war.  Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Jernigan said Thompson saved his life after an explosion and firefight left him blind and bleeding. “He was one of the best men I’ve ever met. I’m standing here because of him,” Jernigan said.

Thompson, 25, of North Wilkesboro, N.C., died Oct. 21 in an explosion near Amariyah. It was his second tour in Iraq.  Thompson’s sister-in-law, Mellisa, a corpsman in the Navy Reserves, offered a tribute during his funeral.  “I can remember at our wedding that Chris was always hugging me,” she said. “He said he’d always wished for a sister.”  Thompson won the Navy and Marine Commendation with Valor for his actions that saved Jernigan and other Marines on Aug. 22, 2004.  His brother, David, also a Navy hospital corpsman, said that Chris’ executive officer told him he was proud to go to war with Chris.  “He knew if something happened he’d take care of them,” David said. “If things were worst, he’d be the first one to step up.”  He also is survived by his parents, Larry and Geraldine.

Petty Officer Third Class Christopher Thompson

Source:  Charlotte Observer. 10/29/2005.

NORTH WILKESBORO—Officer Thompson, age 25, of Shingle Gap Road, Millers Creek, died Friday, October 21, 2005 in Iraq. Funeral services will be held Sunday, 3:00 at Peace Haven Baptist Church with the Rev. Tim Pruitt and Rev. Tommy Hutchins officiating. Burial will be in Mountlawn Memorial Park.

Petty Officer Thompson was born in Wilkes County, July 30, 1980, to Larry and Geraldine Reid Thompson. He served in the US Navy as a corpsman and was attached to US Marine Corp in Camp Leujune. He received the National Defense Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon 3rd Award, Good Conduct Award, Combat Action Ribbon Operation Iraqi Freedom, Global War On Terrorism Service Medal, Global War On Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, The Navy and Marine Commendation with Valor and the Purple Heart.

Christopher was very active in sports. He played baseball for North Wilkes High School and Wilkes Community College. He also played football at North Wilkes High School. Christopher was a member of the North Wilkes ROTC for one year. He was active in Yellow Jackets Football and Babe Ruth Baseball and a counselor at the Elk Camp for two years.

In addition to his parents, Christopher is survived by two brothers, Jimmy Epley and his wife, Krista of Hays, David Thompson and his wife, Mellisa of Wilkesboro; paternal grandmother, Statia Thompson Eplee of Forest City.

Memorials may be made to Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, 875 N. Randolph Street, Suite 225, Arlington, VA 22203-1977. Online Condolences may be made at

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Christopher during the month of July 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Christopher’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Anissa Shero

Anissa A. Shero—June 2006 Shipment Honoree

Air Force SSGT, 31, of Grafton, W.V.; assigned to the 16th Special Operations Wing, Hurlburt Field, Fla.; killed in an MC-130H Combat Talon crash on June 12, 2002, in Afghanistan.

West Virginia Airman to be Buried at Arlington

Source: Arlington National Cementery Website

A West Virginia native killed in a military plane crash in Afghanistan will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, her family says.

The bodies of Staff Sergeant Anissa Ann Shero and two other Americans were flown to a U.S. base in Germany, where they were received Monday with military honors. The three were to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Shero, who was stationed in Florida with her husband, will not be returned to her hometown of Grafton, said her grandmother, Edith Kenney.

A public memorial service is scheduled for June 28 at the Mother’s Day Shrine in Grafton. Taylor County veterans groups are planning the event. “This is to show our appreciation for the sacrifice she gave for our freedom,” said Tootsie Robinson, commander of Disabled Veterans of Taylor County.

Shero, 31, and Technical Sergeant Sean M. Corlew, 37, of Thousand Oaks, California, were members of the 16th Special Operations squadron that was serving as crew of the MC-130H when it crashed last week. Also killed was Army Green Beret Sergeant First Class Peter P. Tycz II, 32, of Tonawanda, New York.

The plane, a version of the C-130 cargo plane outfitted for special forces missions, crashed and caught fire after taking off from an airstrip in southeast Afghanistan. Seven others on board survived. The crew was picking up three Special Forces members from the airstrip south of the town of Gardez. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.

Last fall, Anissa Shuttleworth married Nathan Shero, also a special forces airman, and changed her name. The couple were based at Hurlburt Field and had recently bought a home in Navarre, Florida.

Anissa Shero, who enlisted in 1992, was the first Air Force woman to die in Afghanistan, and the second West Virginian killed there since the military campaign began.

“When she called me a few days before she left, she said, ‘Well, I’m going again.’ But she couldn’t say where,” Kenney said Sunday. “I told her to please write me a postcard or anything, just to say hello or goodbye. And she did. She was a thoughtful child. It’s going to be very lonesome,” she said. “I think back at the times I’ve treasured and what was and is now, and I guess, what is to be. She would just laugh. I can see her laughing now.

Statement of Senator John D. Rockefeller IV on the Senate Floor
On the Death of Staff Sgt. Anissa A. Shero in Afghanistan
June 14, 2002

Mr. ROCKEFELLER: Mr. President, for many generations, the people of West Virginia have distinguished themselves by their willingness to serve their country in the armed forces. West Virginians understand the cost of freedom and have always been willing to pay it when called. Today, we are reminded again just how great that cost can be, as we mourn the loss of Air Force Staff Sgt. Anissa A. Shero, of Grafton, West Virginia, who died in a tragic airplane crash near the town of Gardez, Afghanistan.

Sgt. Shero was a volunteer, who chose to serve her country in the face of grave danger. When terrorists struck, she left behind the mountains of West Virginia for the mountains of Afghanistan—to risk her life so that we might live ours in freedom and safety. She was part of an extraordinarily successful effort to crush the Taliban, disrupt and demoralize al-Qaeda, and free the people of Afghanistan from two decades of war and despotism. Men and women in both nations are safer now because of her work, and all of us who value freedom owe Sgt. Shero a profound debt of gratitude and honor. I know that the thoughts and prayers of many people are, like mine, with her family and her friends.

Like the two service members who died with her, and the 37 others killed in Afghanistan during this war, including West Virginian Sgt. Gene Vance, Jr., Sgt. Shero bravely did her duty as an American. Now, let us pledge to do ours in her honor. Let us remember always, including on the floor of this Senate chamber, that wars are about people, and freedom, and lives. Let us make certain that our armed forces have the tools they need to meet any foe, any where, any time. And let us treasure the freedoms we enjoy as Americans and give thanks for the service members who fight to protect them.

Sgt. Shero represented the best of West Virginia and the best of America. She was strong, courageous, and dedicated. She will forever serve as a role model for West Virginians, men and women alike, who love their country and who, like her, know our ideals are worth fighting for.

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Anissa during the month of June 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Anissa’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Robert Hernandez

Robert Hernandez— May 2006 Shipment Honoree

Army SSgt., 47, of Silver Spring, Md.; assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 318th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 80th Division (Institutional Training), Army Reserve, Fort Meade, Md.; killed March 28, 2006 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat operations in Taquaddum, Iraq.

Staff Sergeant Robert Hernandez, 47, of Silver Spring, Maryland, joined the United States Army in 1981 and spent more than three years on active duty.  Following his active duty tour, he joined the Army Reserve and in 1988 successfully completed the Army’s Drill Sergeant School and served as a Drill Sergeant with 1st Brigade, 80th Division.  In 2003, after a break in service, he returned to the Army Reserve where he completed Military Police School and was assigned as a Military Police Drill Sergeant in the 3rd Battalion, 318th Regiment, 80th Division, at Fort Meade, Maryland. Staff Sergeant Hernandez was mobilized in May, 2005, to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He arrived in Iraq in August, 2005, and was assigned to the Multi-National Security Transition Command – Iraq (MNSTC-I) J3 Convoy Security Company.  His duties included vehicle driver, gunner, scout, and tactical commander.

Staff Sergeant Hernandez’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal w/ ‘M’ Device, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon w/ the Bronze Numeral ‘1’, Drill Sergeant Badge, and the Combat Action Badge.

As a civilian, he was employed as a Police Officer with the Prince George’s County, Maryland, Police Department.  Staff Sergeant Hernandez is survived by his two sons, Xariel Hernandez and Micah Hernandez; his fiancé, Pricila Godley; and his mother, Juana Pizarro.

Chief High/County Police Department Mourn County Officer Killed in Baghdad

Source: Police Department, Prince George’s Country, Maryland

Prince George’s County Police Chief Melvin C. High today said that Prince George’s County Police Department is mourning the loss of Corporal Robert Hernandez, a county officer who was an Army Reservist deployed in Iraq. The only details available to the Police Department at this time are that his convoy was struck by an explosive device at approximately 9:00 p.m. E.S.T.

“Today this Department is deeply saddened by the loss of our brother Corporal Robert Hernandez. On behalf of my office, our Command Staff and all the men and women of this Department, our hearts are with Officer Hernandez’ fiancé and other family members,” said Police Chief Melvin High.

County Executive Jack Johnson said, ‘I’m heart broken by this loss, and I know the people of Prince George’s County will keep Corporal Hernandez’ family in their prayers, as I will. It is a tragic loss for our county, and the nation.”

Corporal Hernandez was a 10-year-veteran of the department; he served the last four years in Police District II.  His Commanding Officer Major Michael Blow said Corporal Hernandez was a hard working officer who easily earned the respect of his fellow officers. He said Hernandez volunteered to be a Field Training Officer (FTO) to help new officers graduating from the Police Academy gain “real world” experience. His squad won a unit citation in 2000 for organizing care packages for food victims in Mozambique. “His loss will be felt throughout the District, the Department and the community, “Blow said.

Hernandez joined the Prince George’s County Police Department with experience from both the Metropolitan Police Department and the Baltimore City Police Department. A Staff Sergeant and Army Reservist, Hernandez was a 24-year military veteran. He had been deployed in Iraq since last summer.

Corporal Hernandez is survived by his family in Silver Spring, his fiancé, his adult son and two children. The rest of his family, including his parents, lives in Puerto Rico.

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Robert during the month of May with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Robert’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Laura Walker

Laura M. Walker—April 2006 Shipment Honoree

Army 1st Lt., 24, of Texas; assigned to the 864th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy), 555th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade (Provisional), Fort Lewis, Wash.; killed Aug. 18, 2005 when an improvised explosive device detonated underneath her Humvee during ground assault convoy operations in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Also killed was Sgt. Robert G. Davis.

1LT Laura Margaret Walker


Laura Margaret Walker was born into a military family on June 16, 1981. Her education included ten different schools, living in 18 different cities, and three different countries, culminating with her graduation in 1999 from SHAPE American High School in Belgium. Laura was active in Club Beyond, Model United Nations, and earned varsity letters in soccer, basketball, and volleyball. She belonged to the National Honor Society and was selected to the “All Europe” soccer team her senior year. Laura attended the United States Military Academy at West Point where she excelled in leadership positions such as Cadet 1SG and CSM and was elected as class secretary for the class of 2003. While a cadet, she graduated from Air Assault School at Fort Polk in June 2001, served as a summer intern with the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, played for the United States Junior Women’s Handball Team in the Pan American Games, and was team captain of the West Point Women’s Handball Team, leading them to a national collegiate championship. Although she was offered the opportunity to pursue a position with the Olympic handball team, Laura chose to serve with soldiers. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Systems Engineering on May 31, 2003 and was commissioned a 2LT in the Corps of Engineers.

2LT Walker arrived at Fort Lewis in January of 2004, was assigned to the 555th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, and deployed to Iraq in support of the 4th Infantry Division until April 2004. Laura was reassigned as a vertical construction platoon leader in the 864th Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) upon returning to Fort Lewis. She re-deployed with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 864th ECB (H) to Afghanistan in March of 2005. 1LT Walker’s platoon expertly constructed force protection, mobility, and life support facilities, and performed quality assurance for local national contracts at Forward Operating Bases Salerno and Guyan. In July 2005, 1LT Walker was selected to be the Executive officer of the 864th battalion Headquarters’ Company. En route to her new position, she was assigned to a two-month tour as the Task Force Pacemaker Public Affairs Officer. She wrote several news articles for the Task Force that appeared in several newspapers, to include The Afghanistan Freedom Watch, Defend America, and The Northwest Guardian. Laura was the editor of the Task Force newsletter, The Pacemaker, which is distributed to all of the Soldiers in the Task Force, as well as their family members and Pacemaker’s higher echelons.

Laura was killed in action on 18 August 2005 in Delak, Afghanistan. She proudly wore the 4th Infantry Division combat patch on her right shoulder, a distinction she shared with both of her grandfathers from their service with the Division in both World War II and Vietnam. Her awards and decorations include: the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal (1OLC), Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Action Badge, and Air Assault Badge

Although Laura was an exemplary officer and loved West Point and the soldiers she led, these were but a part of her huge capacity for life. She was a strong person, spiritually, physically and mentally. These qualities inspired others to “play up” in all areas. Laura valued family and friends, and fostered a sense of community wherever she found herself. Loyalty — Laura was all about loyalty and traditions. She loved music and had a gifted voice. She was an accomplished and prolific writer. She treasured time spent with her sister and brothers. She loved learning to cook with her mother, and shared her skill with others. She enjoyed talking to her father on long, slow runs. She was a certified aerobics and yoga instructor. Her continued interest in soccer was reflected in her play with the local club in Tacoma. She shared a deep love for all the holidays, especially Christmas (which starts in July) with her family. Passion — Laura was all about passion and dedication. She and Ed Peskie were to be engaged this summer after several years of sharing life together. She loved God and was growing in Christ daily. 1LT Laura Walker was a good friend and inspiration to all who knew her; we miss her terribly. Laura is survived by her mother, Valerie Walker, her father COL Keith Walker, her sister, Audrey, her brothers, Duncan, Brian Walker. Sorrow knows no bounds for Ed, the family, and the countless lives she touched. We ask that just as we all benefited from the goodness of her life, let there be continued goodness long past this transient painful visitation by death. Continue to hold her in your hearts and minds, and honor her by living life to its fullest.


The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Laura during the month of April with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Laura’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Peter Wagler

Peter Wagler—March 2006 Shipment Honoree

Army Cpl.,18, of Partridge, Kan. ; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; died Jan. 23, 2006 of wounds sustained that day when an improvised explosive device detonated near his M1A2 Abrams tank during patrol operations in Baghdad. Also killed was Staff Sgt. Lance M. Chase.

Family mourns slain soldier from Kansas

Source: Suzanne Perez Tobias, The Wichita Eagle

Peter Wagler was 7 when his father, David, made him a plaque with the meaning of his name –“rock” — and a Bible verse, Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage,” it said. “Do not be afraid nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” The Lord was with Wagler when he joined the Army a year ago, his father said. And family members said they felt the Lord’s presence Thursday when they gathered to grieve his death.

Cpl. Wagler, a native of Partridge, died Monday in Iraq. According to a Department of Defense report, Wagler and another U.S. soldier were killed and two others were injured when a bomb exploded near their M1A2 Abrams tank while they were conducting patrols in Baghdad.

Wagler, fifth of David and Trish Wagler’s eight children, was 18. Older brother Vanya, a medical student at Oklahoma State University, remembers his mischievous side. “He was full of energy, carefree,” Vanya Wagler said. “I remember him using fireworks, doing different things just to have a good time.”

From the age of 5, Peter Wagler talked about joining the military, his father said. Posters of jet fighters decorated his bedroom wall. He craved speed and excitement. Like his siblings, he was home-schooled and active in the family’s church, Berean Baptist in Hutchinson. At 16, he got a job at a local storage company but was frustrated when managers didn’t let him operate the heavy machines. “He’d been operating power equipment since he was 10 around here,” his father said. The family lives on a farm just outside Partridge, in rural Reno County, though David Wagler works as a financial adviser.

So it was little surprise when Peter Wagler told his parents in late 2004 that he planned to enlist in the Army. Still, they struggled with letting him go. “We had many discussions,” David Wagler said. “It wasn’t our preference. But he had such a good attitude, and it was clear that this wasn’t just a whim…. We thought it was the right thing to do, to give him our blessing, and we did.” He completed basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., and then served at Fort Hood, Texas. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team — the “Iron Horse.” His tank crew was deployed to Iraq in December.

Before leaving, Wagler wrote a letter and gave it to his parents to put in the family’s safe. It was to be opened only if he didn’t make it back. They opened the letter Tuesday. “He said he had no regrets,” David Wagler said. “He said, ‘I would rather live my life fully and die young, than live a long and boring life.’ ”

The family was together for the last time at Thanksgiving. Peter Wagler’s two older sisters — Maria, a missionary who is helping people with AIDS in South Africa, and Rochelle, a mother of two in Missouri — had traveled back to the farm for the holiday. Most of the family gathered in the same dining room Thursday morning, but the table had been moved to make room for television cameras. David and Trish Wagler sat on the couch, flanked by their children. After David Wagler read a prepared statement and answered a few questions, a reporter asked Trish Wagler to comment: What went through her mind when she got the news? What about her son’s life makes her most proud? Trish Wagler paused, gripping the microphone, but said nothing. She turned to her husband and with tears in her eyes, shook her head. “It’s a good question,” David Wagler said. “But she’s not able to answer.”

Fifteen-year-old Esther Wagler, sitting on the arm of the sofa, later remarked that Peter Wagler would probably shake his head and laugh at the dining room-turned-pressroom. “He would like all the attention we’re getting,” she said. “He would get a real kick out of it.” Family members haven’t made funeral arrangements yet because they’re waiting to learn when Wagler’s body will arrive back in the U.S.

David Wagler said they have been overwhelmed with phone calls and other shows of support. Wednesday was David Wagler’s birthday, and he had to renew his driver’s license. “The driver’s license lady could hardly fill it out, she was crying so much,” he said. “It’s just had that kind of effect on everybody.”

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Peter during the month of March 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Peter’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Jonathan Pfender

Jonathan Pfender—February 2006 Shipment Honoree

Army Pvt., 22, of Evansville, Ind.; assigned to the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, Ky.; killed Dec. 30, 2005 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during patrol operations in Bayji, Iraq.

Soldier who died in Iraq sought change

Source: Associated Press and


An Indiana soldier killed in Iraq joined the Army because he wanted to take his life in a new direction, his mother said. Pvt. Jonathan R. Pfender, who was based at Fort Campbell, Ky., had thought about joining the military since seventh grade, said his mother, Peggy Jo Hammond.

Last spring, he quit his job at Pizza Hut and joined the Army. Pfender, 22, believed he had gotten “lazy” and wanted to do more with his life, Hammond said Sunday. “I asked him about the National Guard or Reserves, and he said, ‘I’m going all out,’ ” she said. ” ‘I’m going in the Army … I want to go to Iraq.’ ”

Pfender, of Evansville, was killed by an improvised explosive device during a patrol Friday in Bayji, Iraq, the Army said. Pfender was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. He was the 52nd military service member from Indiana to die in the war.

Family members mourned his loss Sunday, but said they were proud of him. Hammond said she knew her son, a 2001 graduate of North Posey High School, likely would be sent to Iraq but backed his decision “250 percent.” She showed her support by getting her son’s picture tattooed on her arm. The tattoo depicts her son in uniform standing in front of a U.S. flag. Pfender was impressed when he saw the tattoo during a visit home before his deployment Sept. 16, family members said.

“Jonathan is still a part of my heart that I could not ever explain to anybody if I ever tried. That’s why this is on my arm,” Hammond said. “It’s a pride I can’t explain.” Pfender wanted to be an Army Ranger, but high blood pressure kept him out of the unit, his mother said.

Pfender’s father and stepmother, Randy and Jackie Pfender of Ohio, were in the Evansville area when they learned of Jonathan’s death. Hammond said Army officials told her that her son’s body is in Kuwait and an autopsy will be conducted in Dover, Del., before his body is returned home.

He had been scheduled to return to the United States for two weeks in June. Hammond said she last spoke with her son by phone Christmas Day. “I got a half-hour,” she said. “It was the longest I ever got to talk to him.” She said she ended the conversation the same way she had told her son good night since he was little: “Night night, sweet dreams, I love you.”

Other web sites about Jonathan are:

Defense Link

Wish TV


The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Jonathan during the month of February 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Jonathan’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

Toccara Green

Toccara Green—Jan 2006 Shipment Honoree

Green died in Al Asad, Iraq, when multiple improvised explosive devices detonated near her unit during convoy operations. She was assigned to the 57th Transportation Company, 548th Corps Support Battalion, Fort Drum, New York.

‘She loved her country’ and died in Iraq serving it
Army Spc. Toccara Green, a transport operator, had just been home on leave and talked of re-enlisting.

By Anica Butler
Sun Staff

Toccara Green lingered until after midnight that last Sunday in July, eating ribs and ice cream cake and mingling cheerfully with nearly 90 friends and relatives gathered at a backyard barbecue in her honor.

She posed for pictures with new baby cousins and older relatives she had not seen for years. She prayed with members of her church. The next Sunday, her two-week leave over, the 23-year-old Rosedale woman and Army specialist returned to Iraq for the final four months of her second tour of duty.

Yesterday, members of her family reconvened to mourn her death.

Green is the first military woman from Maryland, and the 26th service member from the state, to die in Iraq since U.S. forces invaded the country more than two years ago, according to announcements from the Pentagon.

As friends and family gathered, Green’s parents received a phone call from a fellow soldier and friend of their daughter who was there when she died. Green was killed Sunday when explosives detonated near her supply convoy in Al Asad, in western Iraq.

Green, a motor and transport operator, was driving a Humvee behind Spc. Nicole Coleman, the soldier who called the Green family home yesterday. Between them were several trucks carrying supplies, Coleman said over a crackling connection. When the convoy stopped to refuel and switch drivers, they climbed out of the Humvees.

“The next thing you know, explosives went off,” Coleman recalled in a soft and trembling voice. “I was getting ready to get back in when I saw the first one go off.”

Coleman said she dropped to the ground, then jumped back into the Humvee when she heard the second explosion. Inside, she heard there were casualties but didn’t know who.

The next time she left her vehicle, she said, she saw her friend lying in a pool of blood. She recognized her, Coleman said, by the scarf on her head. Someone was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Green, Coleman said, but she was dead before the medevac unit arrived.

“I just started screaming,” she said. “I never lost a best friend before.”

The two met during basic training in 2003, Coleman said, and referred to themselves as “Batman and Robin” or “Pinky and the Brain.”

Green had long wanted to join the Army, her family said, and spent four years in ROTC while attending Forest Park High School in Baltimore.

Her father, with whom she was close, wasn’t comfortable with his only daughter joining the military, especially because her older brother had joined the Marines, the brother, Garry Green Jr., said yesterday.

So, after she graduated from high school in 2000, Green attended Norfolk State University in Virginia, where she studied telecommunications and broadcasting.

Her desire to join the Army never waned, and in January 2003, she enlisted, her brother said.

“She loved her country,” he said. “She wanted to do something to help, not just sit around and talk about it.”

When Green was 13, her father had begun to teach her about cars, and she loved to work on them, her brother said. So it was no surprise when she told her family that her Army job would be as a motor and transport operator.

She was assigned to the Army’s 57th Transportation Company, 584th Corps Support Battalion, based at Fort Drum, N.Y.

She was sent to Iraq the first time in May 2003, her brother said, and stayed for about nine months. She returned to Iraq in February.

Garry Green Jr. said his sister was eager to finish her second tour and receive a new assignment. She was talking about re-enlisting during her last visit home.

“She wasn’t exactly mad about going to Iraq,” he said. “She’s not the type to cry that ‘I gotta do this’ or ‘I gotta do that.’ She just wanted to get it done.”

He described his sister as enthusiastic and outgoing, a natural leader who could motivate others easily.

Coleman described Green as a silly, witty and excitable confidante.

At her family’s church, Victory Ministries International, Green worked with the children in the congregation and read announcements, said Lenora Howze, a family friend and associate pastor.

During her last visit home, Green went to a movie with her aunt, as she always did, and went roller skating, a favorite activity.

Her father, Garry Green Sr., watched videos yesterday of Green participating in ROTC drill competitions in high school. Her mother, Yvonne Green, said she couldn’t bear to hear her daughter’s voice and instead sought comfort in the photos taken on that overcast Sunday in July.

Her brother, too, reflected on the recent gathering.

“It was a perfect day,” he said. The Greens said they are planning a local service in addition to a military funeral in Arlington, VA.

The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Toccara during the month of January 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Our thoughts and prayers remain with Toccara’s family and friends today and in the years to come.

In honor of Toccara Green we shipped 155 long sleeve t-shirts to LRMC and 70 movies to out-patient billeting.