Ten more stones were
installed June 12 in Victory Park at Fort Riley. What’s significant may not be
the stones themselves, but the men whose names are carved into them and the
lives they led.
The 1st Infantry Division honored
10 Soldiers June 12 at the Victory Park rededication ceremony, part of the
annual Victory Week observance. Seven of the Soldiers died while serving with
the “Big Red One” in the past year, while three were Medal of Honor recipients with
the 1st Inf. Div.
Stones bearing the names of
Spc. Angel Lopez and Sgt. 1st Class William Lacey, both with the 201st Brigade
Support Battalion, 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Inf. Div.; Chief
Warrant Officer 2 Randy Billings, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Joshua Silverman and
Sgt. Peter Bohler, all with the 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation
Regiment, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div.; Sgt. 1st Class Omar
Forde, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div.; and Spc.
Terry Gordon, 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div., were
laid in front of the Fallen Soldier Memorial in Victory Park. This brings the
total number of stones in Victory Park marking the combat death of a Soldier
attached to the 1st Inf. Div. since the start of the Global War on Terror to
Staff Sgt. Walter D.
Ehlers, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Normandy, France,
in June 1944, died Feb. 20. Sgt. Alfred B. Neitzel received the Medal of Honor
for his valorous actions in Heistern, Germany, Nov. 18, 1944. When an enemy
assault threatened to overrun his unit’s position, Nietzel selflessly covered for
the retreating members of his squad, expending all his ammunition and holding
his post until he was killed by an enemy hand grenade. Sgt. Candelario Garcia
distinguished himself on Dec. 8, 1968, as a team leader during a
reconnaissance- in-force mission near Lai Khe, Vietnam. Garcia destroyed two
enemy machinegun positions in an attempt to aid casualties that were in the open
and under fire. Garcia then rejoined his company in a successful assault on the
remaining enemy positions. He died Jan. 10, 2013.
Both Neitzel and Garcia were
awarded the Medal of Honor March 18 as part of the Valor 24 group. Each of the 24
Army Soldiers in the group had been previously awarded the Distinguished
Service Cross, which was upgraded to the Medal of Honor following congressional
“Thank you for joining us in
honoring the memory of the great Americans who served our nation faithfully as
Big Red One Soldiers,” said Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding general, 1st
Inf. Div. and Fort Riley. “Today, we honor the heroes that lived their lives
for something greater than themselves. Soldiers who stood in times of our
country’s greatest need and lived our warrior ethos to the fullest.”
Stones with the names of Ehlers,
Neitzel and Garcia were laid in front of the Winged Victory statue among the
names of other 1st Inf. Div. recipients of the Medal of Honor.
“You would think, given our
Army culture, that stories of selfless service would become common, and they
are to a degree,” Funk said. “But even our seasoned Soldiers often marvel at
the sheer determination of will that our fallen mustered under fire and
Funk told the family
members of fallen Soldiers present at the ceremony they were members of the Big
Red One family, and that family mourns and honors their losses with them.
“Although they no longer walk
with us, train with us or laugh with us as the Soldiers do whenever they can,
their spirit will always fight on with us,” Funk said. “After 239 years, this
Army still stands for hope. And after 97 years, this division still fights for
Victory Week coincides with
the 1st Inf. Div.’s 97th birthday and the Army’s 239th birthday.
“I was very honored that they
were doing the ceremony for my son,” said Sabina Edwards, mother of Spc. Terry Gordon.
“It’s a very special moment for us.”
Edwards said Gordon was very
proud of his accomplishments with the Big Red One.
“It was a joy to him,”
Edwards said. “He kept me abreast of everything he was doing, and to come here
and to see it is very emotional. He loved life, and he loved his Big Red One
Catherine Ehlers-Metcalf, daughter
of Walter Ehlers, traveled from California to attend the ceremony.
“It’s quite an honor to be here,”
Ehlers-Metcalf said. “It’s nice to have his memory kept alive and to see the
appreciation that everyone has for him.”
WHAT DOES “DUTY FIRST”
Maj. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding
general, 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, took time to explain just what
the “Big Red One” motto means during the Victory Park rededication ceremony June
DUTY FIRST MEANS:
• On a moment’s notice, a unit
on your flank springs into action when they receive word that a helicopter conducting
a recon has just been shot down, and the rush up a mountainside in below freezing
weather to rescue their brothers, placing their own needs second.
• A group of individuals working
in a Forward Operating Base motor pool in Afghanistan discard their own safety and
immediately snap into a cohesive team, returning fire on a traitorous coward,
who turned his weapon on a trusting American Soldier.
• A team leader conducting
a reconnaissance-in-force mission near Lai Khe, Vietnam, 1968, takes it upon
himself to destroy two enemy machinegun positions in an attempt to aid
casualties that are in the open and under fire.
• A young NCO in Heistern,
Germany, 1944, selflessly covering for the retreating members of his squad,
expends all his ammunition and holds his post until he is killed by an enemy
• 70 years ago, a brave soul
fights his way off the beach in Normandy as part of the D-Day invasion of World
War II, then, just days later, single-handedly defeats several enemy machinegun
nests and carries the wounded to safety, despite his own wounds.