WATERLOO - The community rallied together once again to honor fallen soldiers during a vigil Wednesday evening. People packed into Veterans Memorial Hall for a brief ceremony that included the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem. A rifle salute and playing of taps followed outside, with a bagpipes rendition of "Amazing Grace." The event, hosted by Black Hawk County employees, was designed as a tribute for Iowa soldiers Don Nichols, Brent Maher and James Justice, "who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms," said Craig White, with the county Board of Supervisors. The three were killed in action in Afghanistan recently in seperate incidents.
|Buglers like Kelly Kilbride provide the utmost respect|
"It hurts when we lose one of our own," White, a Vietnam veteran, said. "It opens a wound. It's a tragedy when one of our young people die for any reason, but to die in war - it's a great honor, but it's still a tragedy in my eyes. We thought it was a chance for healing, a chance to get together and show our appreciation, per se, for the families.
"Anybody that's ever been in the service realizes the easy part is going over to the conflict," he added. "The tough part really is for the families that stay back here because of not knowing what's going on and then the fear ... when you see the soldiers walking up to your doorsteps with that notice that you've lost your loved one."
Among those in the crowd were several of Spc. Nichols' family members, including his parents, Jeff and Jeanie Nichols of Shell Rock and Becky and Roger Poock of Waterloo, and fiancee, Chelsey Bliss of Waverly. His brother, Joseph Nichols of Waterloo, a combat engineer with the Army Reserves stationed in Afghanistan, who escorted Nichols' body home, along with another brother, Nick Nichols. "You don't really go to some of this stuff until it's one of your family members," said Julie Foust, Nichols' aunt. "Then you realize the importance of it."
Support from others during tough times is much appreciated, said Foust, adding that Jeff, her brother, and Jeanie Nichols have purchased a motorcycle and joined the Patriot Guard Riders, so "they can show their respect like everybody did for all of our whole family." "I encourage anybody, even though they don't have a family member, just to take this serious," she said. "I would have never imagined in a million years this would happen to our Donny."
White noted the members of West High School's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in attendance. Hopefully, by the time you guys are out of school, this is a thing of the past, and we'll never have to face this again," he said. Darci Ritter, family readiness coordinator for the Waterloo-headquartered 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry regiment of the Iowa Army National Guard, approached county courthouse employees in 2006 about serving like a rear detachment for families of those soldiers. That year, two 1/133rd soldiers never made it back from Iraq. Sgt. 1st Class Scott Nisely of Marshalltown and Sgt. Kampha Sourivong of Iowa City were killed. "We've become like a family over these last few years," White said. "It was like part of our family had left us."
Ritter encouraged any National Guard families to take advantage of support services, like monthly family readiness meetings to promote fellowship and networking. She helps to connect about 680 families within the 1/133rd during the recent deployment to Afghanistan with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division. Last August 2,800 soldiers left the state to serve in the conflict.
"We don't have the luxury within the National Guard of living on an Army base where right next door is another Army wife or another family going through what it's like to have a loved one overseas," said Ritter, whose husband has only been home 15 months in the past five years and has spent two years in Fort Riley, Kan., recovering from injuries sustained in a Humvee rollover in Iraq. "Our families are scattered throughout the state. "We're starting to talk about our homecoming, but this leaves a lot of time of uncertainty and anxiety losing three of our Iowa soldiers in the last week."
AMEN to that thought. And the vigil continues..... I received a note yesterday of a mass being held for the safe return of the deployed on Sunday May 8 @ 7:00 a.m. St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church 1224 5th Street S.E. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
And there will be more vigils and prayer time offered as Iowans show their support. I'm convinced of that, so much so that I'm going to say.....TO BE CONTINUED.