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Soldiers honored

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Four soldiers from the 39th Brigade Combat Team died in Iraq

MEMORIAL: The Soldiers of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team observe a moment of silence in honor of the four soldiers of "Bravo" Company who were killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom II. The soldiers gathered around a memorial that was unveiled at their Batesville based armory on Oct. 15. In opening the dedication ceremony, the 2nd Battalion's commander, Lt. Col. Cary Shillcut, said, "No one knows the sacrifice of war, like the soldier -- and like the family." (Photo by Capt. Chris Heathscott, Arkansas National Guard State Public Affairs Office)

"Those that would choose to be our enemies should understand that we will fight any fight, that we will pay any price. We will do whatever it takes to secure liberty and freedom."

These words, once spoken by President John F. Kennedy, were reborn through the voice of U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, during a memorial dedication ceremony in Batesville Oct. 15. The ceremony paid tribute to four Arkansas National Guardsmen who gave their lives in support of the global war on terrorism.

Congressman Berry added words of his own to the quote by saying, "These people that we memorialize here today, and their families, know what that really means. And they know that they have fought the fight and paid the price. And we are, as a nation and a community, eternally grateful for that sacrifice and commitment that they have made."

Honoring a pledge to remember the soldiers who died serving with the 39th Brigade Combat Team during Operation Iraqi Freedom II, the ceremony memorialized the men who were killed in action while serving with the brigade's Batesville unit.

Rain fell on the attending crowd like tears from heaven, as the emotions of family, friends and fellow soldiers inspired tears of their own. The large crowd continued to pay their respects in defiance of the rain, which soon dried up as if paying respect as well.

Of the four men being memorialized, three were killed in the same attack, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their military vehicle on Jan. 4, 2005.

Sgt. Joshua S. Marcum of Evening Shade, Cpl. Jimmy D. Buie of Floral, and Spc. Jeremy W. McHalffey of Mabelvale were all killed in action as a result of that attack.

Sgt. Kenneth A. Melton, who was a resident of West Plains, Mo., was the first Soldier to lose his life while serving with the unit. Melton was killed when his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device and small arms fire on April 25, 2004.

"I'm all too familiar with the circumstances of their deaths," said Maj. Gen. Ron Chastain, the adjutant general of Arkansas, as he spoke about each soldier with firsthand knowledge. "All four died on the same highway in Baghdad, one that we called Route Pluto."

Chastain commanded the 39th Brigade Combat Team during its deployment to Iraq, his second combat command. Chastain also commanded the 25th Rear Area Operations Center during its 1990 deployment in support of Operation Desert Storm.

During the mobilization of the 39th from October 2003 to April 2005, the brigade consisted of approximately 4,200 soldiers from 10 states. In all, 33 men lost their lives while serving with the 39th prior to the brigade's return home. Sixteen of these men were Arkansas National Guardsmen. The pledge of the 39th is to never forget their sacrifice.

"We must continue to realize the importance of remembering our fallen comrades," said Chastain. "This fallen soldiers memorial will always remind us of these 'Bravo' Company soldiers that did not make it home. We honor them today and we remain in touch with the past with symbols. This memorial is such a symbol. It's a way to preserve their memory."

The bronze memorial consisted of a common representation of the fallen soldier, a soldier's helmet perched on the butt of his rifle, with the weapon's bayonet firmly planted in the memorial's four-by-four base. An empty pair of combat boots sits side by side, with laces neatly tied in front of the weapon. A plaque inscribed with the names of each of the four men along with the date of each death provides all who pass with a memory of their sacrifice.

Etched on the base of the memorial are the words, "From this day to the ending of the world we in it shall be remembered. For he who today sheds his blood with me shall be my brother."

Obviously humbled by the honor to speak at the ceremony, Congressman Berry said, "I never wore the uniform. I never served in the military. I thought that I appreciated what our men that have, have done for this country. But I didn't fully understand it until I went to Iraq and spent some time with Bravo Company and the 39th and our military that was serving there at the time."

Several soldiers serving with the 39th had the opportunity to meet Berry during a congressional delegation visit to Iraq in August of 2004. Berry joined his fellow U.S. Representatives, Mike Ross and Vic Snyder, along with Randy Massenelli, the state director for Sen. Mark Pryor's office, during the trip to Iraq.

"I left there more impressed with these men and women that have served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan than anything I have every seen or ever expect to see," Berry added.

Berry assisted Gen. Chastain and the family members of the four fallen soldiers in unveiling the memorial.

"I consider it an honor to have served with these four outstanding soldiers," said Gen. Chastain in his closing comments to the crowd. "We honor them by not taking for granted what they did. We need to keep their memory alive, and in fact, we owe it to them."

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