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Memorial Day Tears

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Darrell Habisch
  • 407th Air Expeditionary Group
This Memorial Day in Iraq, I have shed many tears for a Soldier I never met.

I was asked to videotape a memorial service for an Army major killed in action May 24 when an improvised explosive device pierced his Mine Resistant-Ambush Protected vehicle near Numaniyah in southern Iraq.

The memorial service started at 9:45 a.m. May 27 at Memorial Hall on COB Adder.

The hall was hot and sweaty. Seats were set for 560 people and it was already half-full as Soldiers waited for the 10:15 start time.

Very quiet with hardly a whisper or sound of a weapon placed on the concrete floor. A projector cast photos of him on a screen at the front of the stage.

Soldiers filed in and filled up seats until the hall was standing-room only. To videotape, I positioned myself toward the front and to the side.

The members of his brigade wore the usual Army combat uniforms, or ACUs, with a few exceptions: instead of camouflaged caps, the members from the 2-108th Cavalry Squadron wore the traditional black Stetson hat with gold tassels, some with blue tassels in reference to that Soldier's infantry background. Many wore silver or gold combat spurs on their combat boots to honor their cavalry heritage.

Finally, a Soldier asked the assembly to rise for the arrival of the official party. Four Soldiers walked on stage.

The service began with an invocation by the chaplain, followed by remembrances from his commander and friend, then his first sergeant, followed again by the chaplain, who was a close friend.

They talked about what a great guy he was, great sense of humor, how he was always concerned about his Soldiers.

How he gave his watch to a young lieutenant who kept asking what time it was, afraid she would miss a meeting. He told her he had worn that watch without taking it off for a year during his last deployment here and he left without a scratch.

He told her to never take it off and she'll go home fine. She is a public affairs officer and every night the watch alarm went off at six p.m. She called and asked him how to turn it off and he said he wouldn't tell her. Every evening when the alarm goes off, he explained, she will be reminded that she needs to write more stories about the Soldiers.

When his seemingly routine mission began that day, the major asked some of the members of the squadron to fly a flag in honor of his wedding anniversary. He would send it back to his wife. They raised his flag in front of headquarters for him. That afternoon, after the attack, they lowered his flag to half-staff, in memory of him.

The service continued with the chaplain speaking of the major's faith and how he knew he would see his friend in heaven. He choked up at the podium and the squadron command sergeant major walked across the stage to support him. The room was deathly silent, save for the sound of more than 500 battle-tested Soldiers sniffling.

The chaplain concluded his remarks with a prayer. Immediately, the wail of a bagpipe began at the rear of the hall as a single Soldier played 'Amazing Grace' while marching down the center aisle to stop at the memorial at the front.

The memorial was a table covered by a black and gold cloth upon which sat his boots, an inverted rifle standing upright with his helmet placed on top. His dog tags were hanging from the top of the rifle. The table had various items Soldiers placed there, his coffee cup, papers and other things that only have special meaning for them and their lost comrade.

When the song ended, the room was called to attention. The first sergeant on stage called for roll call for Headquarters and Headquarters Troop.

He yelled, "Captain Lloyd!"

A booming voice yelled back, "Here, First Sergeant!"

He yelled, "Major Robinson!"

"Here First Sergeant."

He yelled, "Major Culver!"

There was silence.

He yelled, "Major Ronald Culver!"


He yelled again, "Major Ronald W. Culver, Jr.!"

And a voice said, "He's not here first sergeant, for he's gone to Fiddler's Green."

Profound silence.

"Sergeant Major, strike Major Culver's name from the roll."

After a few moments the Soldiers walked off the stage and Taps was played.

Soldiers stood and waited their turn to approach the memorial table, touch the dog tags, leave an item or say a prayer. Each performed a slow salute, turned and marched to a line of waiting comrades to express their condolences and share their grief. Hundreds of Soldiers.

Major Ronald Culver was a member of the Louisiana Army National Guard Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, Shreveport, La. The 44 year-old officer left behind a wife and two teenage children.

We added his name to the list of the fallen read at Memorial Plaza on Memorial Day.