Becky Welch, widow of 1st Lt. Robert F. Welch, takes a moment to remember at the Memorial Dedication and Fallen Hero Ceremony, March 9, 2012, at Fort Knox, Ky. The day's events culminated in the dedication of a memorial for all the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Soldiers who have died since 2001 in overseas contingency operations. First Lt. Welch died last year from wounds suffered in a rocket attack at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan. Photo by Army Staff Sgt. John Zumer
| ||FORT KNOX, Ky. (March 13, 2012) -- Family, friends and Soldiers coming together normally implies good food, good times and plenty of fun. However, in the case of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and its honored guests, Friday's Duke Memorial and Dedication Ceremony was a much more solemn occasion. |
The day's events were planned by the Duke Association, a private organization entrusted with preserving the legacy of the 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div. "Dukes." The group wanted to remember the ultimate sacrifices paid by Duke Soldiers since 2001 in overseas contingency operations. Brigade leaders and veterans felt the best way to honor the memory and service of their fallen was to build a unique memorial, separate from other larger, all-encompassing memorials.
It was that desire which served as the impetus for launching the new organization.
With Friday's dedication of the Duke Memorial, event organizers brought to Waybur Theater the families of those Duke Brigade Soldiers who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Guests were introduced and welcomed, and Duke Association President Maj. Steve Smith took the opportunity to thank those in attendance. He also commented on the many people and organizations in the greater Fort Knox community that helped make the memorial a reality, once word got out about the project.
"I quickly found out they had made the Duke Brigade their own," said Smith.
The solemnity of the occasion was brought home to the audience with a Fallen Hero Flag Presentation, where an honor guard meticulously folded a United States flag. A narrator explained during the folding that the thirteen separate folds in the process each represent not the 13 original colonies as one might suspect, but special virtues or influences like equality, womanhood and country.
After a memorial video, highlighting Fallen Duke Soldiers and the brigade's history since 9/11, Col. Chris Toner, commander of the 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div., discussed the unforgettable legacy of those Soldiers who had died, and how they and their families will be remembered in brigade circles.
"We will never forget the terrible loss you have suffered," said Toner.
After the Waybur Theater events concluded, attendees moved to the formal dedication of the Duke Memorial, near the common area shared by the 3/1 BCT battalions. The monument unveiled to the public is modeled after the 1st Cavalry Division's memorial at Fort Hood, Texas. Featured are separate markers for each of the brigade's six battalions, with individual names of Soldiers who have fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 listed on each marker.
The monument currently holds 118 names.
A special memorial prayer and the somber notes of "Taps" set the stage for many months of work on the part of volunteers reaching fruition. In unison, each marker was uncovered, with Family members then inspecting each, looking for the names of loved ones. Many took the opportunity to highlight with tracing paper and charcoal the imprint of the names set into the black granite markers.
A reception for Gold Star Families at the Fort Knox Leaders Club brought the day's events to a close.
It was a somber day of remembrance, certainly, as those present relived some very painful moments, recognizing brave Duke Brigade Soldiers no longer with families, friends and their comrades-in-arms. Toner said if there was any consolation, however, it was in knowing the fallen won't ever be forgotten by those who gaze upon the Duke Memorial, or remember in their most precious memories what their lives meant to the nation and loved ones left behind.
Many family members present thanked those who had arranged the tributes paid to their fallen soldiers, even on such a bittersweet day that couldn't help but remind them of what they had lost.
"You guys just did an amazing job, all of it," said Darren Baker, stepfather of Spc. Mikayla Bragg, who died in December just before the brigade was set to return from Afghanistan.
For those who helped and planned the memorial and day's events, however, it was a small installment on a debt that can never be repaid.
"Their sacrifice was great, but not in vain," said Toner. "They risked their lives, ultimately, for their brothers and sisters."
By Army Staff Sgt. John Zumer
3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs
Army News Service
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