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Local/Regional News Item Saturday, November 22, 2003
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Post honors 17 killed in Iraq crash 
Fort Campbell comrades recall copter victims
Associated Press


 Christina Simmons, left, was comforted by Danielle Secor during yesterday's vigil at Fort Campbell for 17 soldiers killed in the helicopter crash in Iraq. Simmons' husband, Sgt. Michael Simmons, is serving overseas

 The crash victims' names were shown during a slideshow that included pictures of the soldiers on duty and with family members.

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. Seventeen soldiers killed when two Blackhawk helicopters crashed in Iraq last week were remembered yesterday during a somber ceremony at their home Army post for their devotion to duty and family.

Each soldier was recognized by comrades during the nearly hourlong prayer vigil at Fort Campbell, on the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

Capt. John Butora said his fallen comrades from the 101st Airborne Division were committed to the cause of freedom for the Iraqi people. They "made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope that someone they didn't even know would have a better life," Butora said.

Seventeen wreaths were placed along the front of the stage in an auditorium filled with more than 600 people.

The wife of Fort Campbell's commanding general read Psalm 23 from the Bible, which says in part, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."

Sobs from the audience punctuated a slideshow that depicted the soldiers while on duty or with family. The ceremony ended with a mournful rendition of "Amazing Grace" played by bagpipes.

First Lt. Rizwan Shah said the best way to honor the fallen soldiers was to "drive on with the mission and get it done. They will be greatly missed."

The two helicopters crashed Nov. 15 in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing 17 and injuring five. The Army believes the helicopters collided but is still investigating the cause of the incident. It was the worst single loss of American life since the war began.

Butora, who lost six members of his battalion, said it was probably the worst day of his life.

"Every one of them loved doing their job," he said in an interview before the ceremony. "They really felt they were doing a greater good for other people."

Butora recalled that Chief Warrant Officer Scott A. Saboe, 33, of Willow Lake, S.D., kept pictures of his family above his cot.

"I used to see those pictures every day and never thought twice about them," Butora said. "I don't think I'll ever forget those pictures now."

He said he especially felt sorry for Saboe's 6-year-old son.

"I just hope he knows his father is a hero and he should be proud of his father," Butora said.

Fifty-two soldiers from Fort Campbell have died in the Iraq war, said John Minton, a Fort Campbell spokesman.

The victims of last week's crash were remembered in personal terms during the tributes from members of their battalions.

Sgt. Michael Acklin II of Louisville was remembered for his smile that "stretched from ear to ear," said 2nd Lt. Nicholas Bilotta.

Pfc. Richard Hafer of Nitro, W.Va., was known for his "commanding presence," and the pinch of snuff tucked in his mouth, said 1st Sgt. Perry Bunn. "He was a man among men."

Pfc. Sheldon Hawk Eagle of Grand Forks, N.D., would play with Iraqi children, who would cheer for him as he approached, Bunn said.

Butora was briefly overcome with emotion as he recalled Sgt. John Russell of Portland, Texas, whom he had known since 1996. He said Russell was a proud Texan.

Spc. Jeremiah DiGiovanni of Tylertown, Miss., was always generous and befriended everyone, Butora said.

"He was always ready to give a helping hand, no matter what it was," Butora said.

First Sgt. Mark Remini recalled how Spc. John Sullivan of Romeoville, Ill., was quickly accepted as a newcomer in a mechanical maintenance platoon. He said the soldiers treated each other as brothers.

"I cannot count the number of times I would hear loud, banging noises and someone screaming," he said. "I would arrive at the tent to see if someone was hurt, only to find all the men in a dogpile on top of each other, wrestling and laughing their heads off."

Remini said he was the one who notified Sullivan that his wife had given birth to twin sons. "He showed the pictures to everyone he could find, as a new father does, and he was walking on air," he said.

Remini said Sullivan "understood the risk of being a soldier and the price of freedom. He willingly accepted the risk."

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