Post honors 17 killed in Iraq
Fort Campbell comrades
recall copter victims
BY MARY ANN GERTH, THE COURIER-JOURNAL
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
crash victims' names were shown during a slideshow that
included pictures of the soldiers on duty and with family
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Remini said Sullivan "understood the risk of being a soldier and
the price of freedom. He willingly accepted the risk."