Snow fell on those gathered at St. Joseph Cemetery on Wednesday. Like the tears of angels, the snow softened the prayers read over a flag-draped casket. It muffled the report of seven rifles fired three times by a military honor guard. It muted the sound of taps played by a distant bugler.
Staff Sgt. Stephen C. Hattamer, a Spokane Valley native killed on Christmas Day in Iraq, was buried with honors. He was a soldier, but he was remembered as a builder, as well as a husband, a father, a son and a brother.
“My brother was a peacemaker,” Eric Hattamer said at a funeral service at Christ Lutheran Church in Spokane Valley. “He and his band of brothers are making it possible for us to live the way we live.”
As of Wednesday, 484 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the Associated Press. Like Hattamer, they will all be laid to rest by people who knew and loved them, working people all over the United States who are always called on to make the sacrifices.
Hattamer, 43, and Staff Sgt. Thomas W. Christensen, 42, were killed in a mortar attack on their living area in Baquba, 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. They were assigned to the 652nd Engineer Battalion based in Ellsworth, Wis. The unit is part of the 88th Regional Support Command, which has control of Army reserve units in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
The attack, which also wounded six others, came about 10 p.m. after a Christmas event where they were stationed, said Brig. Gen. Michael Beasley, commander of the 88th.
Beasley led a contingent of 15 officers and enlisted men, including the honor guard, to Spokane to attend the service for Hattamer. Christensen was buried earlier this week in Michigan. The six wounded have recovered and are back on duty, rebuilding Iraq.
“Steve was just as adept as a builder as he was a warrior,” Beasley said at the service. He described Hattamer as an expert bridge builder, “brilliant in technical skills and a superb leader.”
His commander said Hattamer had 25 years in the military, including 16 years as a military policeman and nine years in the Army and Marine reserves. Beasley said Hattamer’s unit was helping to provide security for the Iraqi people and building bridges. He reminded those gathered for Wednesday’s service of the U.S. military’s accomplishments in Iraq - electricity restored, schools reopened, life made livable.
After Wednesday’s services, Beasley presented Hattamer’s family with the meritorious service medal, the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart and the Army commendation medal.
“Steve gave his life so 24 million people could be free,” he said.
The words must have been some comfort to Hattamer’s family and those who knew him and his wife, the former Karen Halseth, as Central Valley High School students.
The couple were married in Spokane in 1983. She and the couple’s three children now live in Sawyer, Mich., where Hattamer worked for American Communications Network.
“Steve was ready.” said the Rev. Mark Sippola, the Hattamers’ pastor in Michigan, who flew back with the family to speak at the funeral. “The problem was, we weren’t.”
Sippola wanted the gathering of mourners spilling out into the halls of the Lutheran church complex to know, “There is a purpose to all of our lives.”
Hattamer died fulfilling his, the pastor said. It was his time to go to work in Iraq. It was his time to make the sacrifice.
“Freedom is not free,” Eric Hattamer said Wednesday. His brother was part of the price of that freedom.