82nd Airborne Division Honors Fallen Paratroopers
By Pfc. Mike Pryor, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT BRAGG, N.C., May 27, 2005 On a day of speeches, the tears in Mike Hunt's eyes expressed more than any carefully chosen words ever could.
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Steven R. England, former command sergeant major of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps, speaks at a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating fallen paratroopers from all the 82nd's campaigns at the division's war memorial May 26. Photo by Pfc. Mike Pryor, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Hunt, of Green Bay, Wis., lost his son, 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper Isaiah R. Hunt, to the war in Iraq last year. On May 26, he journeyed to Fort Bragg to pay tribute to Isaiah and all the other paratroopers who have given their lives in combat. The division's history museum held a memorial ceremony held as part of the 82nd's annual All-American Week celebration.
"I wouldn't have missed it," Hunt said. "It's a real honor to be here, and it's great to know Isaiah was a part of something so special."
Hunt took his place alongside paratroopers past and present, distinguished guests, family and friends as they gathered in the sun outside the museum to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. They sat facing the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial, a large stone monument inscribed with the names of the campaigns the 82nd has fought in and dedicated to the memory of the troopers who fell in those campaigns.
Veterans representing fallen paratroopers from World Wars I and II; operations in the Dominican Republic, Grenada and Panama; the Persian Gulf War; and the global war on terrorism helped lay a wreath at the foot of the monument.
The guest of honor at the ceremony was retired Command Sgt. Maj. Steven R. England, former command sergeant major of the 82nd and the 18th Airborne Corps. In his speech, England invoked the simple stone memorial beside him as a shrine to the history and the values of the division.
"You cannot fully understand the 82nd until you come to this place, because this is the soul of the 82nd. It is here where honor resides," England said.
He challenged the audience never to forget the meaning of the memorial and the paratroopers it pays tribute to. "It is our duty to come here. It is our duty to remember. It is our duty to remind others what this sacred ground represents," he said.
Another honored guest at the ceremony, Gen. Dan K. McNeil, the head of U.S. Army Forces Command and a former commander of the 82nd, also stressed the importance of honoring those who gave "the last full measure of devotion." As a veteran himself, he felt the obligation personally, he said.
"Those of us who have had the good fortune to go off and come back unscathed and still be walking this earth know that it's our duty to remember those who were not so fortunate, who did not come back," McNeil said.
Retired Lt. Col. Jim Pritchett, a veteran of the 82nd's deployments to the Dominican Republic and Vietnam, helped lay the memorial wreath in honor of the fallen paratroopers from the Dominican Republic campaign. Pritchett said he has been coming to All-American Week for almost 10 years and hopes to continue to do so because of the camaraderie and brotherhood he feels with fellow paratroopers.
"I didn't know anyone the first time I came, but all paratroopers have a common bond," Pritchett said.
It is a bond that defies time, distance -- and even death. As Pritchett joined veterans from wars spanning 60 years of the 82nd's history to place the wreath, he was renewing that bond, he said. "I feel very honored to do it. It's the least I can do," he said.
When all was said and done, the wreath laid and the speeches concluded, the order was given for a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps." The roar of the firing party's rifles shattered the afternoon quiet, then gave way to the mournful sounds of a bugle playing.
As the age-old sounds of Taps filled the air and a gentle breeze ruffled the newly placed wreath, Mike Hunt's eyes were not the only ones in the audience welling up.
(Army Pfc. Mike Pryor is assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division.)