Field Of Honor Recognizes The Fallen From All Eras

A small American Flag is planted in the Field of Honor plaza as the name of each newly fallen service member is read aloud – the ritual now includes those killed in action in previous wars who were recently identified through DNA.

The ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere rarely make the headlines nowadays. Yet, men and women in the United States military continue to serve there and some die there.

Their numbers may be smaller, but those casualties are not overlooked at Hillsborough Veterans Memorial Park.

A solitary bulletin board, protected by a glass pane, stands at the entrance of the park’s Field of Honor. It prominently displays the number of service members killed in action.

2,407 – Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)
4,460 – Operation Iraqi Freedom
68 – Operation New Dawn (Iraq)

The current military casualty list from October through December 2017 is pinned in the upper left corner.

It is here that the fallen become more than a number.

FH bulletin board

The bulletin board at the entrance to the Field of Honor at Hillsborough Veterans Memorial Park.

Every three months, each new name is read aloud in a ceremony. As it’s read, a volunteer steps forward and plants a small American flag in the “Field of Honor”, a stone plaza in a semi-circle that is inscribed with the names of local military killed in action.

It was a blustery, cold January morning as former Navy Chief Walter Raysick addressed the dozens of volunteers, families and veterans at the ceremony. He explained that 86 names had been added to the ritual. They are the names those killed in previous wars but only recently identified through DNA. But many more remain unidentified.

“World war II missing are approximately 72,964 and Korea still missing is 7,715,” Raysick said.

Recognition for the fallen, however belated, is a comfort to many Gold Star families. That’s the designation given to those who have lost an active-duty military member of their family.

FH Lil Sis

Cathy Goldie is a Gold Star family member who volunteers with the Patriot Riders.

“I’m a Gold Star sister myself. And it is an honor to stand for these being honored today,” said Cathy Goldie, her brother was in the Navy during Vietnam and died in a training accident.

Goldie comes to these “Field of Honor” ceremonies as part of the Patriot Riders, a group whose members attend the funerals of veterans, military, and first responders. She said this one is extra special because it recognizes the recently identified military – killed in Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

There ceremony is also an opportunity to salute local Gold Star families.

FH Gold Star Mothers with Yellow Rose

Yellow roses were presented to the Gold Star mothers Barbara Wade, right, and Nitaya Rubado, left, in between is Gold Star father Charles Rubado.

Charles and Nitaya Rubado of Clearwater lost their son, 2LT Charles R. Rubado with the Army Third Calvary Regiment. He was killed in action August 29, 2005.

“When you lose a son like that, it’s devastating and you never go through a day without remembering,” Charles Rubado said. “This lets us know that other people care.”

Also recognized was Barbara Wade of Lakeland, a 27 year Army veteran and a Gold Star mother. Her son, Army SSG Maurice Tucker, was killed in motorcycle accident while serving in Alaska.

FH Barbara Wade Gold Star Mother

Army veteran and Gold Star mother Barbara Wade wears a t-shirt that honors her son.

“I’ve been a Gold Star mom for a year now,” Wade said. “We’re family. We keep saying their name. We keep doing things in their honor.”

That’s the idea behind the Field of Honor – to keep saying the names – to continue to honor the fallen – lest we forget the sacrifice that unites those who died while serving their country.


Six Soldiers Killed in Afghanistan Arrive at Dover AFB

An Army carry team transfers the remains of Spc. Clarence Williams III into a vehicle July 12, 2012 at Dover Air Force Base, Del. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

It was pointed out in a comment on my Wednesday blog post that I did not share the names of all six fallen warriors killed Sunday by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. That is because I did not have all the names.

I only learned of the two Tampa Bay area soldiers killed from local reports after the families came forward.

The Department of Defense had not yet officially released the names. That’s not uncommon as it takes time to officially notify all family members.

The official announcement came Thursday afternoon:

The Department of Defense announced today the death of six soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

They died July 8, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit in Maidan Shahr, Wardak province, Afghanistan, with an improvised explosive device.  They were assigned to the 978th Military Police Company, 93rd Military Police Battalion, Fort Bliss, Texas.

Killed were:

Staff Sgt. Ricardo Seija, 31, of Tampa, Fla.,

Spc. Erica P. Alecksen, 21, of Eatonton, Ga.,

Spc. Clarence Williams III, 23, of Brooksville, Fla.,

Pfc. Trevor B. Adkins, 21, of Spring Lake, N.C.,

Pfc. Alejandro J. Pardo, 21, of Porterville, Calif., and

Pfc. Cameron J. Stambaugh, 20, of Spring Grove, Pa.

There are no words that can comfort the families, friends and communities who have lost these men. But, as a community we can permanently note their names and honor their lives and sacrifice.

All six soldiers’ remains were returned Thursday to Dover Air Force Base.

A memorial service for Brooksville soldier Army Spc. Clarence Williams III is planned Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Grace World Outreach Church, 20366 Cortez Boulevard,  Brooksville, FL.

Killed Solider’s Sister: “He’s Home, He’s in Heaven”

Spc. Clarence Williams III, 23, of Brooksville was killed in Afghanistan Sunday. Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Times.

Just weeks before Clarence Williams III, 23, was scheduled to return from Afghanistan, the Brooksville soldier was killed by an explosive device that also took the life of a Tampa high school graduate.

Williams’ sister, Abrill Edwards, told the Tampa Bay Times that she talked with her brother on Sunday, the day he was killed. She said her brother read the Bible daily and confirmed he was due to come home in two or three weeks.

“But he’s home,” Edwards said. “He’s in heaven, the best home, that’s better than this home.”

Killed by the same improvised bomb was Leto High School Class of 1999 graduate Army Staff Sgt. Richardo Seija, 31. His parents still live in Tampa.

1999 Leto High School graduate Sgt. Ricardo Seija was killed Sunday in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of the Tampa Tribune.

“I want America to remember him as a hero,” his mother, Ignacia Seija, told the Tampa Tribune. “And he’ll always be in my heart.”

Both soldiers were killed with four others when their armored vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb July 8, 2012 in Wardak Province just south of Kabul, Afghanistan. It was a bloody day in Afghanistan that also saw seven Afghan police officers killed as well as 19 Afghan civilians and a seventh U.S. soldier in a separate attack.

According to the Military Times, there have been 6,488 deaths in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) as well as Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and Operation New Dawn reported by U.S. Central Command. But that toll does not include the six U.S. soldiers killed Sunday in the IED blast outside Kabul.

The Department of Defense casualty list shows a total of 6,518 deaths from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as of July 11, 2012, but that list also includes civilians.

Dover Mortuary: Panetta Sets Up Independent Review

Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta. Photo courtesy of the Dept. of Defense website.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has called for two reviews into reports of U.S. Forces remains returned from Iraq and Afghanistan being mishandled and cases mismanaged at the Dover Air Base mortuary.

Panetta learned of the problems at the Dover Mortuary shortly after taking office in July. The secretary has directed an independent review of the situation. (American Forces Press Service)

He also wants a review of a report on the mortuary by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel with attention to possible management reprisals against Dover Mortuary employees who reported the irregularities.

The details of mismanagement at the Dover Mortuary are wrenching especially for the families of the fallen like Marine Sgt. Daniel M. Angus, 28, who had been blown apart by a bomb in Afghanistan. His parents live in Thonotosassa, Florida. A Washington Post article details his case:

The military, it turned out, had kept a painful secret. Before the funeral, while embalmers were preparing what was left of Angus’s shattered body at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary, they had trouble fitting him into a dress uniform. The heat of the explosion had fused his upper left arm bone at an awkward angle. Without asking his parents’ permission, the embalmers sawed it off, pinning a sleeve over the stump.

You can read the full story by Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post  HERE.

Panetta’s independent panel named to investigate the Dover Mortuary current operations and procedures:

  • Dr. Richard Carmona, a former U.S. Surgeon General
  • Retired Army Gen. Fred Franks, a member of DOD’s health board
  • Ruth Stonecifer, representative of families supported by the Dover Port Mortuary
  • Congressman Vic Snyder, a doctor and former Democratic U.S. representative from Arkansas
  • Garold Huey, a funeral director and embalmer who served in the Navy as enlisted member-embalming technician
  • Jacquelyn Taylor, executive director of the New England Institute and an internationally recognized leader in funeral service education
  • Dr. Bruce Parks, a forensic pathologist.

Prayers for Those Lost in This and All Conflicts

I, like most, am struggling with the devastating loss of the 37 Americans and Afghans in a helicopter crash. I do not know how to respond. “Old-school” journalists are supposed to remain objective, emotionally detached. Yet, whether it’s 37 or just one death, there now are families without a father, a son, an uncle, a brother, a spouse.

My response was to turn to a friend, a trained minister and Off the Base blog contributor Dorie Griggs. I asked if she could write a short prayer to share. And, the great friend that she is she offered me, fellow readers and the families of those killed this comfort:


Our hearts ache with the tragic news of Saturday morning’s helicopter crash in Afghanistan and the death of so many of American the Afghan soldiers. Prayers of condolence are sent to the families and friends of the fallen, their battle buddies, and to the scores of soldiers and support personnel who are in mourning today. Help us to be mindful of ways in which we can reach out to the families of these soldiers and the scores of soldiers carrying on throughout the world.

She also shared this prayer received from the National Chaplain:

REV. LIN MCGEE, National Chaplain

I come on my knees this day to beseech each and every member of our organization to stay in constant prayer for our beloved troops and their waiting families.

This morning, in Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents shot down a United States Chinook helicopter, killing 31 (UPDATED reports now say 30 Americans were killed) of our precious children along with the 7 Afghans that were also aboard.

Gracious God above, how long will this war go on and how many heroes will we loose!  The Department of Defense has issued a statement — yet no statement will ever bring these children back to their waiting mothers and other loved ones.  Our hearts are broken!

Please pray for these families ~ please pray for all of our families that are enduring this war from the front lines!!  Please pray that the devastation and loss from the war will soon be over!

People see us and they think our lives are as others — but they are not.  Each day we await our heroes, each day our stomachs burn, our throats are filled with lumps, and our eyes tear in a moment.  Some days it is difficult just to get up, brush our teeth, and get our cloths on.  Some days are impossible – like today.  We are the families whose loved ones guard the world with commitment, dedication, and often the giving of their own lives.

I shall pray for you throughout the day.  I know each of our lives has been shattered by this horrific tragedy.


A Moment of Silence: Memorial Day 2011

Memorial Day is a collective holiday in that all can join to commemorate the sacrifice and to honor U.S. Forces killed in action. And, it is also a day for personal reflection. The following video, produced four years ago, remains as powerful in 2011.

Thank you to all who have served, to the families who have lost a loved one. None will be forgotten.

Another Way to Thank Military Families on Memorial Day

You may not live near a National Cemetery or this Memorial Day you may have other ways to commemorate the men and women killed while serving in the U.S. Forces.

But if not,  Military Families United has set up a web page where you can write a simple thank you note. It doesn’t need to be much. Watch this video to understand who you will be sending your message to:

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