FORT LEWIS, Wash. – Not knowing whether her boyfriend had survived the mess hall attack at a U.S. base in Mosul, Iraq, was agony for Mayra Tucker-Rodriguez.
Then came word from Sgt. Eli Davis’ family that he had suffered a leg injury but was otherwise OK.
Tucker-Rodriguez and more than 200 other people gathered on an Interstate 5 overpass near the gates of Fort Lewis on Christmas evening for a candlelight vigil honoring the Army base’s soldiers and their families.
“No matter where you stand on the war, there are soldiers out there and we’re here to support them,” said Tucker-Rodriguez, of Lakewood.
The crowd spilled onto the sidewalk at either end of the overpass, which was draped with yellow ribbons. Some held American flags high above their heads as honks of support sounded from the highway below.
Tuesday’s suicide bombing wounded dozens of people and killed 22, including six soldiers from Fort Lewis.
The head of Iraq’s armed forces said Sunday that the attack was not carried out by a member of Iraq’s security forces, and video issued by Islamic militants showed a man purported to be the bomber, wishing his comrades farewell before the explosion.
Joan and Jerry Brown are grateful to have their son, Justin Vines, home alive. He spent time in Mosul and returned in November after being deployed a year.
“He sat there and ate in that same place,” Joan Brown said, wearing a T-shirt bearing her son’s face under a stars-and-stripes jacket. “It really hit home how lucky he is. It’s hard on him.”
The Browns spent every summer weekend on the overpass near the exit to Madigan Army Medical Center, and say they come about every other week now that winter has set in. After Christmas dinner with their son and his friends, they headed out again.
“They were proud to see us go,” Jerry Brown said.
Mark Ceccarelli, a Marine Corps veteran from Lakewood, has taken to playing his bugle at overpass gatherings, which have become frequent sights in recent years.
“I want to honor these people,” he said, glancing around at the crowd. “And those over there in the sand.”
Memorial services for Capt. William W. Jacobsen Jr., 31; Staff Sgt. Julian S. Melo, 47; Staff Sgt. Darren D. VanKomen, 33; Staff Sgt. Robert S. Johnson, 23; Spc. Jonathan Castro, 21; and Pfc. Lionel Ayro, 22, have been scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at Fort Lewis.