FORT LEWIS — Seven Fort Lewis soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan were “decent, ordinary, yet extraordinary” young men to whom the nation owes more than it can repay, Vice President Joe Biden told a memorial service Tuesday.
Biden, who came to the Northwest for the service at the Army base south of Tacoma, gave a quiet and personal talk directed to the families of the seven members of a Stryker combat unit. They were killed Oct. 27 by a roadside bomb in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.
“I promise you from my own personal experience, the day will come when the memory of your son, your brother, your husband will immediately bring a smile to your lips and not a tear to your eye. That day will come, I promise you,” Biden said.
In 1972, his first wife and their year-old daughter were killed and their two young sons critically injured in an auto accident. Biden remarried in 1977.
The memorial service, attended by about 500 soldiers, family members, dignitaries and friends, honored the largest number of Fort Lewis soldiers killed at one time since the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It came on the same day President Barack Obama was at Fort Hood, Texas, to honor the 13 people slain and the 29 wounded in the shooting rampage Thursday.
Biden made only a brief reference to Fort Hood while praising the dedication of the military.
“It’s that valiance that we remember here today at Fort Lewis. It’s that valiance that we honor today at Fort Hood. And it’s that valiance that we’ll celebrate tomorrow, our nation’s 91st Veterans Day,” he said.
The ceremony has become a familiar one at Fort Lewis, where 28 members of the soldier’s unit, the 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division, have died since the 4,000-member brigade deployed to Afghanistan in July.
On a podium at the Fort Lewis chapel, the men’s seven photographs were wreathed with flowers. Next to them were seven pairs of boots, and seven inverted rifles hung with dog tags and topped with combat helmets.
Killed in the attack on their vehicle were Sgt. Fernando Delarosa, 24, of Alamo, Texas; Staff Sgt. Luis M. Gonzalez, 27, of South Ozone Park, N.Y.; Sgt. Dale R. Griffin, 29, of Terre Haute, Ind.; Sgt. Isaac B. Jackson, 27, of Plattsburg, Mo.; Sgt. Patrick O. Williamson, 24, of Broussard, La.; Spc. Jared D. Stanker, 22, of Evergreen Park. Ill; and Pfc. Christopher I. Walz, 25, of Vancouver, Wash.
A service was held last week for an eighth Fort Lewis soldier killed the same day in a separate attack, Pfc. Brian R. Bates, 20, of Gretna, La.
Biden talked repeatedly of the often unsung heroism of the nation’s soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. To the fallen’s family members he said: “As a nation, as hollow as it sounds to say, we grieve with you.
“And we owe you — we owe you more than you can ever be repaid.”
Fellow soldiers spoke of their friendships with those who died, tributes were read from their commanding officer, and two bagpipers played “Amazing Grace.”
At the conclusion of the service, Biden and family members paused for a moment before the boots, rifles and helmets. Williamson’s father, Leon Williamson, gently kissed the helmet of his son.