Has it been so long?
We haven’t forgotten you guys, and we won’t.
H/t to My battle Buddy, Schwilman, and Sniper for the pics, he has more over at his shop.
Battalion salutes its first fallen
Soldiers of the 29th Division remembered two soldiers killed in action on Saturday.
By John Cramer
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Two hours before it was time for the dead to be remembered Monday, Sgt. Maj. Mike McGhee walked to the middle of the gravel compound in Camp Ghazni.
He toed the rocks aside, clearing a patch of dirt so he could pivot cleanly when he called his fellow Virginia Army National Guardsmen to attention.
“You want to do it right,” he said, quietly.
At 10 a.m. precisely, he did just that, making a warrior’s graceful about-face and ordering the men of the 3rd Battalion upright.
Several hundred men — some gray-haired, some teenagers, some tearful, some angry — snapped to attention.
It was time for a battlefield goodbye to two of their own and a native son of this war-torn Central Asian nation.
Less than a month after arriving on the front lines of the war on terrorism, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, suffered its first casualties Saturday at the hands of Taliban militants.
Staff Sgt. Craig W. Cherry, 39, of Winchester, and Sgt. Bobby E. Beasley, 36, of Inwood, W.Va., died when a remote-controlled bomb destroyed their Humvee during a routine patrol, according to the Department of Defense. An Afghan interpreter also was killed but his name has not been released.
The attack occurred on a dirt road between two remote villages in the southern part of the province, about a four-hour drive from the 3rd Battalion’s headquarters at Camp Ghazni.
The patrol passed over a bridge spanning a murky green river in the desert and was making the long climb out of a rugged ravine when an explosion tore through the armored vehicle.
Cherry, Beasley and their interpreter died at the scene.
The vehicle’s only survivor, 1st Lt. Heath Phillips, scrambled to his feet and briefly took command of the scene until medics started treating him for broken ribs.
U.S. and Afghan soldiers searched the nearby village, kicking down some doors in their quest, but the bomber escaped.
“If we’d found him” and he had resisted, “he’d be dead,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jim Shepard of Company A, the patrol’s leader. “I’d have made sure of that.”
The guardsmen stayed at the scene that night, holding a prayer service and gathering debris from the destroyed vehicle.
“We weren’t going to leave any souvenirs for those f—ing savages,” Shepard said. “I don’t just want the guy who pulled the trigger. I want the guy who made” the bomb. “I’ll come back here as long as it takes. I’m going to leave them with a U.S.-made brass tattoo.”
The next day, the soldiers made the long drive back in a sandstorm, arriving after nightfall and entering the base through a silent honor guard of soldiers standing at attention.
The Americans’ bodies already had been flown to the United States and the young interpreter’s body to Kabul, where their families were waiting.
Cherry was scheduled to retire from the Guard in six months. He leaves behind a wife, two teenage children and an 8-month-old son.
‘‘I never thought this would happen,’’ said his father, Roy Cherry, of Windham, Maine, where Craig Cherry spent much of his childhood. ‘‘And it hurts. It hurts bad.’’
Cherry entered the Army after graduating from high school in Virginia.
Roy Cherry said his son was eager to lead the younger men in his unit.
‘‘Unfortunately, he was the first one killed,’’ Cherry said. ‘‘My son, he’s one of the best. There’s no way around it.’’
Beasley married his wife, Juanita, four years ago, according to his brother, John Beasley. Bobby Beasley worked at Kraft General Foods in Winchester.
Monday’s memorial ceremony opened with an invocation by the battalion’s chaplain, Maj. Tim Mattison, who wished the three men Godspeed.
The battalion stood in front of an ad-hoc memorial — made not of stone or marble but of plywood, 2×6’s and nails painstakingly crafted into a temporary tribute by the guardsmen.
Three flags — of the United States, Afghanistan and Virginia — flew at half-staff, rippling in a warm desert wind.
Below, another two Stars and Stripes and one more Afghan flag were tied tautly across wooden racks standing upright in front of three boxes draped in camouflage cloth.
The soldiers’ and interpreter’s colleagues took turns approaching the boxes and setting upon them the personal and military remnants of the three men’s lives.
First, photographs of the dead were propped between bricks stamped with “911” — an Afghan brickmaker’s tribute to the tragedy brought to America and the resurrection to Afghanistan by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Then came the combat boots, bayonets, rifles, helmets and dog tags of the soldiers — the timeless sculpture to a dead warrior — and the sandals and black-and-white scarf of the interpreter.
Roll was called for the anti-armor section, known as “Tows” for the missiles they fire. Every soldier responded but the two, whose names were repeated three times, a symbolically plaintive quest that went unanswered.
A seven-man rifle squad fired three times, and a bugler played taps, the echo of the gunfire and musical sorrow carrying across the compound.
Several soldiers wept. Three men collapsed from the emotion and morning heat.
Finally, the anti-armor soldiers — 13 of them — filed past the memorial. Each stopped and saluted. Some whispered final words of goodbye.
Some held back their tears. Many could not, including Phillips, the lone survivor, who walked painfully away to cry alone.
Spc. Ron Creswell joined the National Guard with Beasley 12 years ago.
“I lost my buddy,” he said, tearing up. “It’s a nightmare I just can’t wake up from.”
Spc. Ian Kenney said, “One day they’re here, the next they’re not. It’s shock, just shock.”
“We’re just missing them,” said Spc. Jonathan Fournier.
Spc. Gary Miller said, “My crew’s gone and I’m still here.”
Staff Sgt. Eric Horne, a Roanoke police officer in civilian life, said the deaths hit the battalion hard.
“I’ve buried a few friends, but a lot of these young guys aren’t used to losing someone they have coffee with and play ball with and eat breakfast with,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing.”
McGhee said the deaths have united the battalion even more.
“One positive is it makes the unit tighter,” he said. “The love these guys have for each other gets more concentrated. That sounds strange to say, but it’s the brotherhood of soldiers. It’s a hell of a cost to pay.”
Staff Sgt. John King of Roanoke also knew the men.
“It’s just unreal,” he said.
After the ceremony, a young anti-armor soldier shook the right hands of his colleagues and slipped something into their left hands — a shell casing from the 21-gun salute he’d picked up from the ground, a brass keepsake for two fallen comrades.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.