By SGT. KANDI HUGGINS
3rd Brigade Combat Team,
1st Infantry Division
Gold Star Family members sat before seven black marble stones engraved with names of the loved ones they’ve lost in combat. Among them also sat former Soldiers remembering the Soldiers they once served with and honoring the ones they never knew. Most wore dress uniforms, except one who was dressed in an Army combat uniform.
This “Soldier” was about two feet tall and weighed about 30 pounds. He wore the rank of first lieutenant with the name Frison stitched on the chest. He carried a rose which he laid on the memorial wall with the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment’s crest, right under the name of his dad, 1st Lt. Demetrius Frison.
In March 2012, the Dukes of the 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and the local community built a memorial in remembrance of the 117 Soldiers they lost along with Frison due to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
More than two years later, May 7, the Dukes, their Families and the community gathered to honor and memorialize Sgt. 1st Class William Lacey, Spc. Angel Lopez and 1st Lt. Jason Togi by rededicating the Duke memorial with their names engraved in the stones under their respective units.
“Duty first isn’t just a motto, it’s a way of thinking and a way of life,” said Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, deputy commanding general of operations for 3rd Army and former Duke commander. “We couldn’t ask these Soldiers to do more than they’ve done. We all remember those names on the wall and (that) behind each is a story, a life, a commitment and comrades left behind.”
Over the past 14 years that the U.S. has been involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, 6,805 service members have lost their lives in combat or from combat-related injuries. Pittard said he longed for the day when the war is over and no more names are added to memorials.
“When we memorialize Soldiers in combat, we emphatically vow to those that paid the full measure, and to their Gold Star Families, never to forget,” said Col. Bill Ostlund, 3rd IBCT commander. “Today we will revisit that vow as we remember our 118 fallen from past tours and add our three most recently fallen.”
Surveying the crowd, Pittard noticed many young Soldiers who were “probably in the first or second grade at the time of Sept. 11” who were present in the formation answering the call to serve their nation in uniform.
“A lot of us watched this recent tour with honor and pride of how well the brigade did throughout this deployment,” said Pittard. “The Duke’s reputation was solidified in getting the mission done… unfortunately, it came at a price.”
With the unit inactivating later in the month, Ostlund said the memorial will be relocated to Fort Riley, Kan., the home of the 1st Infantry Division. He said they will become the stewards of the memorial and the Duke’s Gold Star Families.
“To our Gold Star Families, the country owes you a great measure of respect and no words, letters, citations, flags, or public recognition will capture the selfless acts, bravery and honor your loved ones demonstrated,” said Pittard. “It was an honor to serve with the Soldiers on the wall and we must not forget, we will not forget that this memorial wall will always be hallowed ground.”