This Memorial Day weekend was unlike any other, with many parades and concerts canceled and others choosing to livestream events in order to maintain social distancing guidelines.
While troopers from 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Division maintained social distancing guidelines, they also gathered on the west end of Fort Hood’s Cameron Field to rededicate the 4th Infantry Division Memorial, which commemorates 525 Ivy Division Soldiers who gave their lives for freedom fighting in Iraq.
“Memorial Day is not about barbecues and parades, although those things add to the celebration. Memorial Day is about making sure the men and women, my fellow brothers and sisters who gave their lives are remembered, celebrated and never forgotten,” Lt. Col. Richard Groen, commander of 1st Bn., 7th Cav. Regt. “Garryowen,” said.
Monday’s ceremony drew approximately 50 people, including Fort Hood senior leaders and veterans of the Ivy Division now living in Central Texas. Groen’s unit also provided a live-stream video of the event on the regiment’s Facebook page.
The 4th Infantry Division originally dedicated this memorial Sept. 4, 2004.
The memorial’s centerpiece stature, depicting a Soldier mourning at the foot of a Soldier’s Cross while being comforted by a small Iraqi girl, was created by an Iraqi sculptor from melted down pieces of statues he sculpted for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Josh Illian, formerly the executive officer of 4th Inf. Div.’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, was among several dozen Ivy Division veterans in attendance for the rededication ceremony Monday. Illian was also among those who assisted in bringing that centerpiece statue from Tikrit, Iraq to its Fort Hood home in early 2004.
“It’s precious,” he said. “It blew me away to see the Garryowen and (the) Ironhorse (Brigade) family step-up and take care of this monument to our fallen.”
“I’m glad they didn’t move the monument when 4th ID moved to Fort Carson, (Colorado)” retired 1st Sgt. John Cook, a member of the Ivy Division from 2002-2007, said at the rededication ceremony. “A lot of Soldiers who were in 4th ID got out and retired here.”
The memorial was rededicated two more times, in 2007 and again in 2009, as more names were added. The 2009 rededication occurred just prior to the Ivy Division’s move north to Fort Carson.
“Always remember this – some are content to simply enjoy the freedoms of this great country – others choose to protect that freedom,” then-Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, since retired, said during his time as commanding general of the 4th Inf. Div.
“We have three things that we do. We nurture the living, we care for the wounded and we honor the fallen,” Chaplain (Capt.) William Beaver, the Garryowen chaplain, said.
“I was here when they first built the monument,” Cook said. “It’s good to come back and pay respect to your fallen comrades. I drive by once or twice a week, but get out and pay my respects a few times a month.”
In addition to being the spiritual leader for 1st Bn., 7th Cav. Regt., Beaver served as the officer-in-charge of the restoration project at the memorial. He led dozens of young Garryowen troopers who volunteered to help out.
“Most of these young troopers, they haven’t seen combat, I hope to God they don’t … but you have to be prepared like we’re going,” the chaplain said. “So this is a good education for them. I told these young troopers to go look at the names. These are our brothers and sisters in arms. They left from Fort Hood and they never returned.”
In addition to restoring the memorial for Monday’s rededication ceremony, Garryowen has “adopted” it, taking over its maintenance and upkeep, as well as the raising and lowering of the nation’s flag on site every morning and evening.
The troopers gladly supported the honor.
“I’ve been in the military for seven years, when I first came into the Army I didn’t know anything,” Sgt. Carderius Saine, a dismount team leader with Troop B, 1st Bn., 7th Cav. Regt., said. “Learning the history and heritage that the Army protects made it an easy decision for me to come and make sure the home of my fallen brothers and sisters was a perfect reflection of their sacrifice.”
While Monday’s rededication ceremony was held in the midst of a pandemic, it served as a reminder of the Army’s commitment to remember its legacy and never forget its fallen.
“It’s really hard to not have as many people attend in person as we wanted,” Ironhorse Brigade Commander Col. Michael Schoenfeldt, also a veteran of the Ivy Division, said.
“We wanted to make sure this day was marked, not by COVID-19, but by the sacrifice and honoring of our nation›s best heroes. The entire Ironhorse family understands the significance and impact these fallen troops had,” he added, “and we, as a family, wanted to make sure they were represented this Memorial Day as the heroes they will always be.”