Commentary: Airman Touched by Memorial Service in Iraq
By Air Force Master Sgt. Darrell Habisch
Special to American Forces Press Service
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER, Iraq, May. 31, 2010 This Memorial Day in Iraq, I have shed many tears for a soldier I never met.
I was asked to videotape a memorial service for an Army major killed in action May 24 when an improvised explosive device pierced his mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle near Numaniyah in southern Iraq.
The memorial service took place May 27 at Memorial Hall here. Seats were set for 560 people, and it was already half full as soldiers waited for the 10:15 a.m. start time.
It was very quiet with hardly a whisper or sound of a weapon placed on the concrete floor. A projector cast photos of the major on a screen at the front of the stage.
Soldiers filed in and filled up seats until the hall was standing room only. To videotape, I positioned myself toward the front and to the side.
The members of his brigade wore the usual Army combat uniforms, with a few exceptions: instead of camouflaged caps, the members from the 2-108th Cavalry Squadron wore the traditional black Stetson hat with gold tassels, some with blue tassels in reference to that soldier’s infantry background. Many wore silver or gold combat spurs on their combat boots to honor their cavalry heritage.
Finally, a soldier asked the assembly to rise for the arrival of the official party. Four soldiers walked on stage.
They talked about what a great guy the major was, his great sense of humor and how he was always concerned about his soldiers.
They talked about how he gave his watch to a young lieutenant who kept asking what time it was, afraid she would miss a meeting. He told her he had worn that watch without taking it off for a year during his last deployment here and he left without a scratch.
He told her to never take it off and she'll go home fine. She is a public affairs officer and every night the watch alarm went off at 6 p.m. She called and asked him how to turn it off and he said he wouldn't tell her. Every evening when the alarm goes off, he told her, she will be reminded that she needs to write more stories about soldiers.
When his seemingly routine mission began, the major asked the squadron to fly a flag in honor of his wedding anniversary that day so he could send it back to his wife. The squadron raised his flag in front of headquarters for him. That afternoon, after the attack, they lowered his flag to half-staff, in his memory.
The service continued with the chaplain speaking of the major's faith and how he knew he would see his friend in heaven. He choked up at the podium and the squadron command sergeant major walked across the stage to support him. The room was silent, save for the sound of more than 500 battle-tested soldiers sniffling.
The chaplain concluded his remarks with a prayer. Immediately, a bagpipe’s wail began at the rear of the hall as a single soldier played “Amazing Grace” while marching down the center aisle. He stopped at the memorial at the front.
The memorial was a table covered by a black and gold cloth upon which sat his boots, an inverted rifle standing upright with his helmet placed on top. His dog tags were hanging from the top of the rifle. The table had various items soldiers had placed there: his coffee cup, papers and other things that only have special meaning for them and their lost comrade.
When the song ended, the room was called to attention. The first sergeant on stage called for roll call for Headquarters and Headquarters Troop.
He yelled, "Captain Lloyd!"
A booming voice yelled back, "Here, first sergeant!"
"Here, first sergeant."
There was silence.
He yelled, "Maj. Ronald Culver!"
He yelled again, "Maj. Ronald W. Culver Jr.!"
And a voice said, "He’s not here first sergeant - for he’s gone to Fiddler’s Green."
"Sergeant Major, strike Major Culver’s name from the roll."
After a few moments the soldiers walked off the stage and taps was played.
Soldiers stood and waited their turn to approach the memorial table, touch the dog tags, leave an item or say a prayer. Each performed a slow salute, turned and marched to a line of waiting comrades to express their condolences and share their grief.
Maj. Ronald “Wayne” Culver was a member of the Louisiana Army National Guard Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment of Shreveport, La. The 44 year-old officer left behind a wife and two teenage children.