A helicopter crashes east of a place called Tal Afar, killing a former rodeo queen from Washington state. A mortar shell shatters Christmas northeast of Baghdad, killing a husband and father of three from Spokane Valley. They are among 3,400 men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice in a war that has now lasted longer than U.S. military action in Europe during World War II. Today, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, The Spokesman-Review pays tribute to 14 men and one woman with ties to our region who have lost their lives since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. One died in a plane crash in Afghanistan. The rest were killed in Iraq, many during firefights or by roadside bombs the military calls improvised explosive devices. Until this year, 2004 was the deadliest so far for Inland Northwest military personnel, but 2007 has already seen just as many lives lost. These profiles of the fallen were compiled primarily from accounts published in the days following each death.
Army Spc. Robert Benson
Died: Nov. 5, 2003 in Iraq
Tie to our region: Raised in North Idaho; attended high school in Spokane.
Benson was the first from the Spokane area to die in the Iraq war, and more than 300 people crowded Faith Bible Church in Spokane for his funeral. When the honor guard fired its salute to Benson at Holy Cross Cemetery, his wife, Aimee, shuddered.
The Defense Department reported that Benson died of “non-hostile gunshot wound” while serving with the 1st Battalion, 35th Armored Regiment of the 1st Armored Division.
Benson loved fishing and hunting. He wrestled and played football at Shadle Park High School, and graduated from North Central High in 2001.
“He was the perfect brother,” said his stepsister, Alexandra. “He was so sincere. He was the only Bobby there ever was and the only Bobby there will ever be.”
Army Staff Sgt. Stephen C. Hattamer
Died: Dec. 25, 2003 in Baqouba, Iraq
Tie to our region: Central Valley High School graduate.
Hattamer, a Spokane Valley native, was buried at St. Joseph Cemetery on a snowy January day.
He and another Wisconsin National Guard member were killed in a mortar attack on their living area 40 miles northeast of Baghdad. The attack, which left six others wounded, came about 10 p.m., after a Christmas celebration.
Hattamer, who spent 25 years in the military, was given a soldier’s burial with honors, but also will be remembered as a husband and a father of three. He and his wife, Karen, attended high school together and were married in Spokane in 1983.
Army Sgt. Curt E. Jordan Jr.
Died: Dec. 28, 2003, near Beiji, Iraq
Tie to our region: Raised in Spokane and Spokane Valley.
Jordan would stick up for his friends.
“He was fearless,” said his mother, Linda Taylor, of Silverdale, Wash., soon after her son’s death about 120 miles north of Baghdad.
Jordan, 25, died while on guard duty of apparent asphyxiation, though Taylor said he did not have a history of respiratory problems. Jordan was assigned to the 14th Combat Engineer Battalion, 555th Combat Engineer Group.
He left behind a wife, Kim Lloyd Jordan, and two children.
“He was a good kid, a great father, a great son,” said his father, Curt Jordan Sr., of Spokane Valley.
Army Sgt. Jeffrey Shaver
Died: May 12, 2004, in Iraq
Tie to our region: Graduated from Newport High School in 1997.
Shaver, a medic with the 161st Infantry Battalion, was among the first casualties from the National Guard’s 81st Brigade. He earned a certification as an emergency medical technician and had worked as a medical assistant at Occupational Medicine Associates and as a physical trainer in Spokane.
In 2002, he moved to Maple Valley in Western Washington.
He was killed when his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device.
Army Sgt. Jacob H. Demand
Died: Sept. 17, 2004, west of Mosul, Iraq
Tie to our region: From Palouse, Wash.
A memorial has been erected in Heritage Park in Palouse in honor of Demand.
It is a bronze plaque mounted on stone next to a tree planted in his memory. There are usually flowers and sometimes a note left at the memorial, said the town’s mayor, Michael Echanove.
The death of the Stryker Brigade sergeant brought the war home to this farm town of fewer than 1,000 residents, where he was well-known. He was killed by small-arms fire.
Demand enlisted in the Army two weeks after graduating from high school. He served in Troop B, 1st Squadron of the 14th Cavalry, based at Fort Lewis, Wash. His unit was assigned to Task Force Olympia, in charge of military operations in Northern Iraq.
Demand has not been forgotten in Palouse.
“He is still part of our lives,” Echanove said.
Army Spc. Blain M. Ebert
Died: Nov. 22, 2004, near Baghdad
Tie to region: From Washtucna, Wash.
Ebert enlisted in the Army even before he graduated in 2001 from high school. In 2003, he signed up for another five years of service.
A month before he died, Ebert was injured in a car bombing. But after a couple of weeks of desk work, he asked “to be sent back out there,” his father, Michael Ebert, told The Associated Press.
Ebert commanded a tank in the 4th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, which is based at Fort Hood, Texas. Weeks after arriving in Iraq, he wrote home asking for donations of clothes and shoes for Iraqi children.
Washtucna responded, sending box after box of goods.
“He spent every moment over there worrying about those people,” Michael Ebert said recently. “In his eyes, love and the future of Iraq were going to come through the Iraqi children.”
Ebert was killed when he raised his head out of the command hatch of his tank near Baghdad.
“It was instant death with one shot. I’m grateful he didn’t suffer,” his father said.
Army Spc. Harley Miller
Died: Nov. 27, 2004, in Afghanistan
Tie to Region: Born in Sandpoint, raised in Spokane area; graduated from West Valley schools.
Miller was killed in a plane crash along with two other soldiers and three civilians en route to a remote military base. He had joined the Army in 2002 soon after graduating from high school, and was a helicopter mechanic with the 4th Cavalry Regiment.
In 2003, Miller married Sarah Ackerman, who was 20 at the time of her husband’s death. The two had known each other since junior high and had a son, Korey.
Miller was buried with military honors at Pines Cemetery. His death, the Rev. Barry Foster said at the time, was part of a larger American sacrifice.
“We must reach out and embrace the coffins yet to come, the coffins that have already come, and the coffins being wept over and grieved over around the country,” Foster said.
Army Sgt. Damien T. Ficek
Died: Dec. 30, 2004, in Baghdad
Tie to region: Was attending Washington State University
Ficek, who had previously served as an Army Ranger, was serving with the Washington National Guard’s 81st Brigade when his patrol came under small arms fire.
He had left the Army in 2000 and was pursuing a degree in athletic training at WSU when his unit was called up.
At the time of his death, WSU was on winter break, but when students and faculty returned, they organized a memorial service on campus. About 300 people, including ROTC students in dress greens, gathered Jan. 19 for a sunset vigil.
Ficek’s wife, Kyla, read from her husband’s journal in which he detailed his first firefight during which he took his first life.
Ficek’s job was to help train Iraqi soldiers, a mission he believed was the most important of the war.
Since his death, The WSU athletic training program raised $25,000 for the Damien Ficek Memorial Scholarship for Athletic Training, according to Bill Drake, assistant director for athletic training.
“It was important to all of us because he was such a humble, hardworking kid,” Drake said.
Army 1st Lt. Jaime Campbell
Died: Jan. 7, 2006, east of Tal Afar, Iraq
Tie to region: From Ephrata, Wash.
The crash of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter made the front pages of most American newspapers.
Not disclosed that day were the names of the four civilians and eight military personnel aboard who died. Campbell was one of the two pilots.
Campbell was the state rodeo queen and president of the class of ‘98 at Ephrata High School. After receiving her interior design degree at WSU in 2003, she stayed in the National Guard to pursue an aviation career, her father, Jeff Krausse, told the Wenatchee World.
Campbell, who had been in the 1161st Transportation Company, based in Ephrata, was serving with 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, based in Anchorage. At the time of her death, she was flying in support of the 101st Airborne Division.
The cause of the crash, one of the most deadly of the war, was unknown.
Krausse, an Army command sergeant major, had spent five days with his daughter while he was deployed to Iraq.
“I never got to give her a hug goodbye,” he said.
Army Sgt. Lucas T. White
Died: Nov. 6, 2006, in Baghdad
Tie to Region: From Moses Lake
If anything ever happened to him, White had told his mother, he wanted to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his brothers in arms.
“That way they would have each other’s backs,” Julia Brooks said after her son’s patrol was attacked by roadside bomb and small arms fire.
White served with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division, a Stryker Brigade, based at Fort Lewis, Wash. He had previously served in Afghanistan.
He was a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and graduated from White Swan High School on the Yakama Indian Reservation. Native Americans have the highest record of service per capita of any ethnic group, according to the U.S. Department of Navy’s Naval Historical Center.
Besides his mother, who lives in Polson, Mont., White was survived by his wife, Jennifer; his father, Mervin White, of Spokane; and his grandmother, Patsy Durfee, of Spokane.
Shortly before he was deployed to Iraq, White went salmon fishing on the Columbia River and asked his mother to give the fish he caught to his grandmother. When Brooks started to cry over his deployment, he told her, “I love you Mom. Don’t worry.”
Marine Cpl. Darrel J. Morris
Died: Jan. 21, 2007, in Al Anbar province of Iraq
Tie to region: Graduated from Ferris High School
Hundreds of people gathered in Spokane to remember Morris after his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb at a police checkpoint. It was his second tour in Iraq.
“He was willing to give what was most precious so that we might live more securely in our freedom,” the Rev. Michael “Redhawk” Rice-Sauer said during the service at Ferris.
When he was 9 years old, Morris and his little sister were abandoned by drug-addicted parents in Tacoma. One day their mother simply failed to come home and the children lived by themselves until a neighbor noticed, according to their uncle, Mik Cole, of Spokane, who took them in.
“For him, everything was a gift,” Cole said of his nephew. “He understood that if he wanted something, he had to work for it.”
Marine Pfc. Bufford K. Van Slyke
Died: Feb. 28, 2007, in Fallujah, Iraq
Tie to region: As a child spent summers and holidays with family in Spokane area.
“Kenny” Van Slyke was killed in February while manning a checkpoint. He served with the Marine Forces Reserve’s 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, based in Saginaw, Mich.
A few months before his death, his wife, Kortni, gave birth to their son, Kaiden.
His father, Keith Van Slyke, of Nine Mile Falls, said his son called him in January to tell him about his role in breaking up a weapons-smuggling operation in Fallujah.
“He was so proud of the bust,” Keith Van Slyke said.
Army Spc. Ryan M. Bell
Died: March 5, 2007 in Samarra, Iraq
Tie to region: From Colville
Had he lived, Ryan Bell would have turned 22 last month. He could be pursuing his dream of becoming a doctor, building a family with his wife, Teri. He could be hiking and camping with his father, Mike Bell, in northeastern Washington.
Bell enlisted in the Army in 2004 because he believed it was the best expression of his patriotism. He and five other members of the 82nd Airborne Division were killed by an improvised explosive device.
Hundreds turned out for his memorial. The mayor was among the mourners.
Bell went out of his way to help others and was one of the best machine gunners in the battalion, said officers from Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was stationed. He was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
“My son ended up being a very fine young man,” Mike Bell said at his son’s funeral. “No father could want for a better son. I’m gonna damn sure miss him.”
Army Reserve Cpl. Kelly Grothe
Died: May 3, 2007, in Iraq
Tie to region: Graduated from Central Valley High School in 2004
Grothe’s Hayden Lake-based Army Reserve unit was mobilized last summer and deployed in the fall.
Grothe and a staff sergeant were killed by a roadside bomb. They were traveling in an armored vehicle that stopped after an earlier improvised explosive device detonated, injuring five other soldiers from Spokane and North Idaho in another vehicle. All are members of the 321st Engineer Battalion of the Army Reserve based in Boise.
Army Sgt. Maj. Bradly Conner
Died: May 9, 2007, near Al-Hillah, Iraq
Tie to the region: From North Idaho
Conner, who was from Coeur d’Alene, was fatally wounded in an explosion during an ambush on his convoy, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.
It was the fourth tour in Iraq for Conner, who had served with the 10th Special Forces Group before being assigned as company sergeant major with the 1st Special Forces Group.
Conner was a 1984 graduate of Kellogg High School. He enlisted in the Army in 1987 after studying at the University of Idaho and North Idaho College.
Conner’s numerous awards and military decorations include three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
Among his survivors are his wife, Cynthia, and three children.
He will be buried May 31 at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.