By CAPT. PHIL MIX
Brigade Assistant Operations Officer
Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division have spent more than six months focused on transitioning personnel, facilities and equipment. On Aug. 21, the focus was on transferring the memorial of their fallen comrades.
The Duke Memorial honors all of the brigade’s Soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Because of the 3-1 IBCT’s deactivation, the memorial site will transfer to 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas.
The site is comprised of 18 large stone panels with 56 smaller stone pieces, all of which total more than forty tons. Soldiers were on site to assist with disassembling, wrapping, and packaging each component to ensure the memorial would survive the transport without a scratch.
“It’s just setting in that the Duke Brigade is no longer going to be here,” said Spc. Desmond Thompson, who participated in the excavation of the memorial. “Seeing all of the names reminded me of the hard work and sacrifice of the Soldiers who were downrange. I was proud to help out and move the memory of the Soldiers.”
The construction of the memorial was originally spearheaded by the Duke Association and completed in February 2012 based on contributions from Soldiers, businesses, previous Duke members, and other sources, according to Capt. Chris Turner, the brigade operations officer.
“The memorial itself pays homage and remembers 121 Soldiers, who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the Duke Brigade during its deployments in OEF and OIF,” Turner said.
This past May, the Duke brigade rededicated the memorial for three of their Soldiers who lost their lives during the unit’s most recent rotation in Afghanistan. For those who served with the fallen Soldiers, the memorial’s excava-tion was their final goodbye to their friends and comrades in arms.
Staff Sgt. Johnny Esperon of 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment said his farewell to fallen Soldier and comrade Sgt. 1st Class William Kelly Lacey, who was assigned to 201st Brigade Support Battalion. Lacey was killed on Jan. 4, 2014 from injuries sustained when the enemy attacked his unit with rocket-propelled grenades.
“When Sgt. 1st Class Lacey was assigned to our unit before deployment, he immediately became part of the 1-26 Inf. Regt. family,” said Esperon. “His nickname became ‘Nonchalant’ because after every mission, we would return with trucks destroyed and riddled with bullets, but he was always smiling and so calm about everything.”
Out of respect for Lacey’s positive attitude, Soldiers who served with him are overall ‘noncha-lant’ with the transfer of the memorial. He hopes to visit the Duke Memorial site in the future and believes the Lacey family, now residing in Florida, will travel to Fort Riley as well.
All friends and families of the Duke Brigade will be able to visit the Memorial at Fort Riley’s First Infantry Museum in 2015. Reconstruction of the Duke Memorial is tentatively scheduled to begin at the museum later this year.
Dr. Robert Smith, head of the First Infantry Museum noted that the Duke Memorial is a welcome addition to Fort Riley.
“The 1st Infantry Division is more than happy to receive this monument,” Smith said. “We at Fort Riley are pleased to have the Duke Memorial within the confines of the museum to honor those who have fallen.”