Remembering those lost from the 82nd Airborne Division.
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — Army Sgt. William Fleming can still see the nine paratroopers hovering over him after the anti-tank mine blew out his eardrums and ripped him with shrapnel last November. "When I got blown up, every one of them came and checked on me," Fleming says, his voice quivering as his hands move to cover his face.
Now, every one of them is gone. On Monday, two suicide truck bombers attacked his reconnaissance scout unit's outpost in Iraq. The explosion killed nine soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and wounded 20 others.
Gone was Spc. Michael Rodriguez, 20, a fourth-generation soldier who at age 4 marched behind his father's Army Ranger unit and "played army" in a pup tent. Gone was Staff Sgt. William "Clint" Moore, who did Elvis impersonations and taught himself to play piano listening to Jerry Lee Lewis records. Gone was Sgt. Brice Pearson, who just two weeks ago re-enlisted.
At 19, Spc. Jerry King of Bowersville, Ga., was the youngest. Sgt. Kenneth Locker, 28, of Wakefield, Neb., was the only father, leaving three young children. Pfc. Garrett Knoll, 23, a medic from Bad Axe, Mich., was the newest member, having joined the unit last month.
Sgt. Randell Marshall, a 22-year-old from Fitzgerald, Ga., was a former rodeo bull rider and a "9/11-er" who signed up because of the terrorist attacks. Spc. Michael Vaughan, 20, of Otis, Ore., was a stocky ex-wrestler known around the unit as "the P.T. stud." And there was 1st Lt. Kevin Gaspers, their 26-year-old platoon leader, who liked to fish and hunt but most of all loved the military.
Capt. John Carson, 33, the unit's rear detachment commander here, believes he does. "We've been together training, living, breathing, jumping, sweating until right now. And we'll continue to do that," he says. "We're going to come together, we're going to pray."
There isn't a unit in the 82nd that has suffered a greater loss this year than 5-73 Cav. Of its 640 soldiers, 18 of its 20 killed in action since the unit arrived in Iraq in August died in 2007. That's half the total for the entire division.
By the time the suicide bombers hit Monday, most members of the 5-73 Cav had been together for two years. They'd helped found the unit as part of the Army's new, more mobile brigade combat teams. Some had deployed in the first wave of troops sent to New Orleans to evacuate residents and patrol the streets after Hurricane Katrina.
The Army notified the last family members on Wednesday. The casualty notification team assigned to Rodriguez's family appeared on Lorie Southerland's sandy front lawn in Sanford, N.C., at 9 a.m. Tue sday. Just the Friday before, her son Michael had called while she and his stepfather were out. He left a voice message, Southerland recalls. "He said he loved us and he'd talk to us soon."
She spoke in the living room where she got the news, now crowded with friends and family who rushed here when they heard. Southerland says her son, who joined the Army in May 2005, re-enlisted for another five years when he was home on leave in January. "He couldn't wait to get back. He missed his guys," she says. "He wanted to get his mission done."
The soldier's father, George Rodriguez, says, "Some people may feel that it's a mistake that we're (in Iraq). Michael was not of that opinion. He was of the opinion that he was there to do something good, to do something honorable."
Robert Pearson tried but failed to talk his son Brice into leaving the Army. "He said, 'Well, Dad, I can't explain to you what it's like to go out to battle with your feet hanging out of a helicopter,' " Pearson says. "I said 'Yeah, but what if you're dead?' He said, 'Well, Dad, then I'll be in heaven, and I'll be OK.' "
OK I know this is long and you probably think I'm crazy lol but I'm not I just wanted you to know about the men that died with Michael. I copied part of the USA Today article that was written last April.
God had everything in place before he took Michael, we have been blessed and comforted by so many people. We know that good has come from this and for that we are thankful. So many times things happen and you don't know why and wont know till you get to heaven. But God is with us and Michael we know we will see again. We have 3 other children and worry about them all the time...do they have their seat belt on, are the eating, will they have a good day. Well with Michael we don't have that - we know Michael is ok. On days that are hard be cause we miss him I always get an e-mail, letter or phone call from someone. God provides what we need to get through the day. Isn't our God good!!!
Thank you for listening to me and I pray God gives you the peace he has given me,