FORT DRUM It was a time for remembrance and a time for families Wednesday morning as the community honored the memory of the 52 soldiers from the post who died in combat areas in 2011.
None of them ever really imagined that they would die for their country, but they were willing to, and they did, said former post commander Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Buster Hagenbeck, who returned for the ceremony. Where would our country be without those men or women? We will always remember their selfless sacrifice long after the result.
Gen. Hagenbeck, who led the post and the 10th Mountain Division from 2001 to 2003, also served as commandant of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point.
About 170 family members joined several hundred soldiers, veterans and civilian dignitaries at the posts Memorial Park for the event.
Speaking first, Maj. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the posts and divisions commanding general, thanked the families of soldiers who died in action for their devotion and sacrifice.
Only they fully understand the true cost of freedom, Gen. Milley said. After the ceremony, he could be seen introducing himself to soldiers families and taking photos with them.
Joining Gen. Hagenbeck and Gen. Milley to unveil the new plaque honoring the fallen were Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Merritt and Michael T. Plummer, president of the Northern New York-Fort Drum Chapter of the Association of the United States Army and former post commander.
Among those in attendance were Gary L. and Jenevieve Boyer, grandparents of Spc. Jeremiah T. Sancho, 23, who was killed in an improvised explosive device attack Oct. 13. Joining them was Jovon A. Diaz, Spc. Sanchos 9-year-old brother, of whom the Boyers have taken custody. Jovon, who wore his older brothers Army jacket, hat and dog tags at Wednesdays ceremony, would say his brother helped him out when he got in trouble.
He later would be seen wiping tears from his face before posing for a photo with Gen. Milley.
Mrs. Boyer said the ceremony made Wednesday an awesome day. Its closure for all three of us, she said.
The Boyers made their trip to Fort Drum from Colorado Springs, Colo. Mrs. Boyer said they recently learned their street at home was evacuated due to the spread of the devastating forest fires raging there.
Were hoping to come back to a home, she said. Her husband leaned over and noted it could be worse.
Its only a house, Mr. Boyer said.
Also in attendance was Mindi H. Hauser, cousin of Spc. Patrick L. Lay Jr., 21, who was killed in a large IED attack Aug. 11 that also took the lives of four other soldiers, considered one of the divisions deadliest days of fighting.
Mrs. Hauser, who attended the event with her husband, William D., said that since her cousins death, the familys closeness has helped through the tough times.
She said her cousin was a big goofball who liked to play pranks and crack jokes and also enjoyed fishing with his grandfather.
We think about the good times, Mrs. Hauser said.
She said she was overwhelmed by the amount of positive support she and her family had received since her cousins death. Were so proud he was a part of our family, she said.