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Memorial service honors fallen soldiers including Dennis Williams
"Father, we come to you this afternoon with our hearts in grief," U.S. Army Capt. Francis Kim said.
Photographs of four soldiers serving with Fort Lewis' 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, rested near four pairs of tan boots and camouflage helmets.
Many young women were present, carrying a bundled infant or holding a toddler's hand, and wiping their eyes. The scene was that of Federal Way native Spc. Dennis M. Williams, Capt. John L. Hallett III, Capt. Cory J. Jenkins, and Sgt. 1st Class Ronald W. Sawyer's memorial ceremony Sept. 9, held by the unit's rear detachment at the Fort Lewis base.
"As we go forward, I charge each soldier here to remember our fallen," said Kim, who is also the unit's rear detachment commander.
The nearly hour and half ceremony was held so that the fallen soldiers' peers may honor and remember them. In a Soldier's Tribute, fellow service members took turns briefly describing what they will remember most about the men.
Williams, 24, was remembered for his good humor and ability to make light of any situation. His dedication to his family — a wife and two young children — could be seen, Sgt. Michael Eacman said. He was someone that a person could not help but like, Eacman said.
Hallett, 30, of California, was remembered as a man who took care of both his soldiers and his family. He departed for Afghanistan within weeks of when his wife was to give birth to a baby girl. Hallett asked Capt. Kim to keep him updated on the soldiers in the rear detachment, as well as send word and photos of his daughter when she was born.
Jenkins, 30, of Arizona, was remembered as a man dedicated to his family and to giving to local Boy Scouts. He served as a mentor for young boys.
"His passion for the Army showed," Staff Sgt. Shane Tracy said.
Sawyer, 38, was remembered as a man who had served in several locations since joining the Army in 1993. He took his duties seriously and if something was due Friday, he'd want it completed by Tuesday, Sgt. Jacob Travis said.
As the tribute dwindled, the lonesome notes of "Amazing Grace," as played by a pair of bagpipers, silenced the crowd. Later, a roll call took place. The rear detachment answered their summons. Silence came as responses when Williams, Hallett, Jenkins and Sawyer's names were shouted. Outside, a firing of volleys honored the men.
Looking majestic, the soldiers repeatedly raised their firearms to the sky and fired. The smell of spent ammunition lingered briefly in the air. Inside, red roses, medals and other memorabilia were placed near the four soldier's boots. Families and soldiers alike shed tears and held one another as they walked away from the items representing their lost loved ones. The day ended with a playing of "Taps."
The scene was emotional. But it also represented an era in which the media, and the public, are allowed a small glimpse into the personal effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a reminder that soldiers serving the nation are individuals with names, faces and families.
Teachers reflect on memories of Williams
The loss of Dennis Williams has stretched out to many areas of the community, including his school family.
At the Federal Way School Board meeting on Tuesday, two former teachers came out to speak about Williams and his impact on their lives, while his grandparents watched from the audience.
Federal Way High School teacher Tammy Taylor had Williams for three years, sometimes twice a day.
"I remember him as very energetic and funny," she said. "He was passionate about music. He was a DJ and would spin on weekends."
Taylor also recalled talking to him a few times after he graduated. He would also come and visit around a momentous occasion, such as his marriage, his first child and when he signed up for the U.S. Army.
She last saw him just a few days before he left, around the birth of his son in June.
"I told him how proud I was of him," she said.
Pat Adkins was more than just Williams' gym teacher. She was also his neighbor. She recalled meeting him for the first time when he was about 4 or 5 years old; he was sledding when she moved in next to their house.
She reminisced about how one time she caught him coming late to her class. When she scolded him, he blew her off, so she sent a letter to his parents — a "may fail" letter. The letter and his dad's anger brought Williams to Adkins' kitchen, where he came with an invitation to dinner from his dad and an order to mow Adkins' yard.
"The day before he left, I wish I could have said, 'I'm so proud of you,'" Adkins said. "Instead I hugged him and he said 'Thanks for being my friend, Ms. Adkins, because I'm sure I'm not coming back.'"
Mirror reporter Kyra Low contributed to this report