Children of Fallen Troops Honored at Remembrance Ceremonies
By Gerry J. Gilmore and John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 2007 Ten children of servicemembers killed during the war on terrorism were honored for their sacrifices on behalf of the nation at ceremonies held here and in Iraq yesterday.
Since 2006, more than 200 Gold Medals of Remembrance like these have been presented to children of fallen U.S. servicemembers who have died in Afghanistan or Iraq. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
At the Russell Senate Office Building last evening, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. were among the luminaries who participated in a recognition ceremony sponsored by the White House Commission on Remembrance.
Each child received a gold medal and a certificate signed by Mullen and Gordon H. Mansfield, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Mullen saluted the children, noting that family support of servicemembers engaged in the war on terrorism is of paramount importance.
“We are indebted to each family who supports the 2.4 million men and women who serve today,” the admiral said. “And those that we honor tonight are true heroes.”
Mullen acknowledged the difficulty in summoning the appropriate words to salve the children’s loss.
The children’s medals, Mullen said, are “intended to be a reminder, not just for you, but (also) for us, of the ultimate sacrifice of your fathers.”
“May each of you take comfort in the knowledge that our nation will forever honor and cherish and remember the great legacy of valor your parents left us,” Mansfield told the children.
Those recognized at last night’s Capitol Hill ceremony include:
-- Kelsi Lamberson, 14, and Evan Lamberson, 11. Their father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Randall L. Lamberson, 36, died on April 10, 2006, from injuries suffered when the truck he was riding in struck a roadside bomb in Ramadi, Iraq. Lamberson also is survived by his wife, Dana.
-- Helena Edge, 9, and Rachel Edge, 4. Their father, Marine Capt. James C. Edge, 31, was killed by enemy small-arms fire in Ramadi, Iraq, on April 14, 2005. He also is survived by his wife, Krissy.
-- Cali Baldwin, 11. Her father, Navy Chief Petty Officer Joel E. Baldwin, 37, was one of 14 servicemembers killed in a suicide bombing in Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 21, 2004. He also is survived by his wife, Claudia.
-- Patrick Engeman, 24, and Nicole Engeman, 22. Their father, Army Chief Warrant Officer John W. Engeman, 45, was killed on May 14, 2006, in Baghdad when the truck he was riding in struck a roadside bomb.
-- Chandler Downs, 13, Elle Downs, 11, and Bailey Downs, 10. Their father, Air Force Maj. William “Brian” Downs, 40, was killed on May 30, 2005, in eastern Diyala province, Iraq, in a crash of an Iraqi air force plane during a training mission. Downs’ wife, Beth, attended the ceremony with her three children.
The evening ceremony “was incredibly moving,” Beth Downs said. “We just appreciate it very much.”
Her eldest son, Chandler, was equally impressed.
“I’m just really proud of my Dad,” he said, “because all these people would take the time out of their day just to remember my Dad. It’s cool.”
Chandler’s younger brother, Bailey, expressed happiness that “all these people are thinking about me.”
“I think this ceremony is really very kind and generous, that these people would take their time out to think about us,” daughter Elle Downs said. “I think that it is very special.”
Recognizing children of fallen servicemembers shows “that their fellow Americans care about their great sacrifice and their parents’ great sacrifice,” Carmella LaSpada, director of the White House Commission on Remembrance, explained at the Capitol Hill ceremony.
“When they look at that medal, they’ll know that it comes from a grateful nation,” LaSpada added.
Engeman’s daughter and son received their gold medals yesterday during earlier ceremonies. At the Pentagon, Gen. Casey presented a medal to Nicole Engeman. Meanwhile, via video teleconference from Baghdad, Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, conferred the medal on Army 1st Lt. Patrick Engeman.
Their late father served with 1st Battalion, 312th Training Support Battalion, 4th Brigade, 78th Division, Fort Bragg, N.C. Engleman worked on a transition team that trained Iraqi security forces to assume control from coalition forces. The mission of such trainers is “extremely important to our overall success in Iraq,” said Casey, whose father was killed during the Vietnam War.
“I think this is also a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the magnificent work that our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and what’s at stake here,” Casey said at the Pentagon award ceremony.
“Your husband and your dad died to preserve (American) ideals and our way of life,” Casey told the widow and two children who survive Engeman. “And we will never forget that.”
In Iraq, Odierno placed the medal around the neck of 1st Lt. Engeman, who the general referred to as “a great young leader.” Engeman is a platoon leader nearing his fifteenth month of deployment.
“I think it says a lot about his dad that Patrick chose to be in the Army, too,” Odierno said. “I know he’s living up to his dad’s expectations.”
The White House Commission on Remembrance was established by Congress in 2000. In 2006, the group created the gold medal for children of those who have died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The commission aims to present the medal to every child who loses a mother or father in current operations, according to the commission’s official Web site.
In the last two years, more than 200 gold medals were presented to children of fallen servicemembers from Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.