Fort Bliss pays tribute to 507th soldiers in memorial
EL PASO, Texas — Empty helmets placed on the barrels of M-16s sat in front of smiling photos of nine members of the 507th Maintenance Company. A posthumously awarded Purple Heart was draped on the upper right hand corner of each picture frame.
The soldiers, killed in an ambush near Nasiriyah in Iraq last month, were mourned by about 5,000 people at Friday’s ceremony, which spilled over into two other locations at Fort Bliss that were equipped with video and audio feeds.
Col. Frederick L. Hudson, the post chaplain, asked the families to rely on their faith and assured them their sons and daughter were “bridges to peace” in the Iraq conflict.
Hudson assured the families that their loved ones didn’t die alone and spoke of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, another member of the 507th. When told the group rescuing her from an Iraqi hospital were American soldiers, the prisoner of war replied, “I am an American soldier too.”
“We are American soldiers too, and we are here to take you home,” Hudson said.
The nine killed in action were Sgt. Donald R. Walters, 33, of Salem, Ore.; Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, of El Paso; Pvt. Brandon U. Sloan, 19, of Bedford, Ohio; Pfc. Howard Johnson II, 21, of Mobile, Ala.; Spc. Jamaal R. Addison, 22, of Roswell, Ga.; Spc. James M. Kiehl, 22, of Des Moines, Iowa; Spc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, of Tuba City, Ariz.; 1st Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland; and Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, of Pecos.
Howard Johnson Sr. called his son “my soldier, my hero.” He said that when his son reached the Middle East he asked the family to send him a camera so he could capture the strangeness of his new surroundings.
“He was excited about it,” Johnson said. “So I’m proud that he was doing something he was excited about.”
Spc. Joshua DeMoray, who served as an usher, didn’t realize that Walters, his friend, was among those killed in action until a practice for the ceremony Thursday, when he recognized his face among the nine photos.
“I just got back in country last week,” DeMoray said after the ceremony. “I didn’t know he was one of them.”
DeMoray said Walters, whom he met at Fort Bliss, was “energetic, always willing to do whatever the mission called for.”