Vice President Joe Biden gave a quiet and personal talk directed to the families of the seven members of a Stryker combat unit at Fort Lewis Tuesday. They were killed Oct. 27 by a roadside bomb in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar.
"I'm here to express my condolences to all those we honored today, and others who are here," Biden said, "and to this base which has suffered an extraordinary loss."
The soldiers died in bomb attacks while on patrol October 27 in Kandahar province.
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.
About 500 people gathered to honor the soldiers - the most honored in a single Fort Lewis service since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. The News Tribune of Tacoma reports that it is the first time a U.S. president or vice president has participated in any of the memorial services for the fallen soldiers since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"As vice president, I'm here to praise your honor your sons, your husbands, your fathers, your brothers and let you know the President and all the United States of America honors the sacrifice they made and you made," Biden said.
The seven are:
- 24-year-old Sgt. Fernando Delarosa of Alamo, Texas -- "Fernando Delarosa is the type of guy you want at your side," said Spec. Benjamin Simmons.
- 27-year-old Staff Sgt. Luis M. Gonzalez of South Ozone Park, N.Y. -- "Luis, you're my best friend," said SFC. Eric Tapia.
- 29-year-old Sgt. Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute, Ind. -- "Brother, man, you have no idea how much you'll be missed," said Cpl. Benjamin Gerdsen.
- 27-year-old Sgt. Isaac B. Jackson of Plattsburg, Mo. -- "Issac was a great friend. I will never forget him," said Spc. Stuart Mansell
- 24-year-old Patrick O. Williamson of Broussard, La. -- "He was both a professional and a friend," said Spc. Nicolas James
- 22-year-old Spc. Jared D. Stanker of Evergreen Park. Ill. -- "He was a quick study... anything that was thrown his way he'd master it," said Spec. Chas Clark
- and 25-year-old Pfc. Christopher I. Walz of Vancouver, Wash. -- "He will forever be remembered as our brother, an American hero and most of all, my friend," said Spc. Christopher Bailey.
A service was held last week for an eighth Fort Lewis soldier killed the same day in a separate attack, 20-year-old Pfc. Brian R. Bates of Gretna, La.
Biden said he had the honor of meeting with some of the fallen soldiers' family members before the memorial began.
"They are all incredible people," Biden said. "It amazes me getting the chance to talk to each of them; their courage and their ability to deal with what is the most tragic of losses. They all suffer from the loss of someone who meant the world to them."
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.
With two other soldiers killed Monday, the 5th Stryker Brigade at Fort Lewis has lost 28 since being deployed to Afghanistan in July.