LA JOLLA, Calif. (NNS) -- Sailors of the chief petty officer's mess at Naval Special Warfare Group (NSWG) 3 dedicated a plaque in one of the six black granite walls at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in La Jolla to honor their fallen comrades Nov. 2.
The group of roughly two dozen Sailors stood quietly in the shadow of a towering white cross, subtly bracing themselves against the whip of the cool morning wind as it tugged at the sharp, pressed khaki uniforms that have become their trademark. Behind them, the sheer size of the sweeping view contrasted the intimacy of the small group. The sun occasionally peeked through the morning haze, casting a mottled reflection across the Pacific Ocean and rolling shafts of light over the mountains in the distance. One could almost see the whole city from their vantage point.
This was the setting that chief's had chosen, standing next to a newly installed plaque to honor their fallen comrades.
The inscription at the top of the plaque was simple, dispensing with prose in favor of a straightforward memoriam: "To honor the memory of our fallen brothers in arms. Members of a SEAL ground element who fought to the end and those shot down while en route to their rescue."
The plaque was dedicated to the memory of Navy SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Teams 1 and 2, SEAL Team 10 and Army 106th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) who lost their lives in a tragic and heroic battle in the Kunar Province near Asadabad, Afghanistan, during Operation Redwing on June 28, 2005. The battle marked what was to be the deadliest day for the SEALs during combat since their inception in 1962.
The U.S. Special Operation Forces (SOF) lead, plan, synchronize, and as directed, execute global operations against terrorist networks; they also train, organize, equip and deploy combat-ready special operation forces to combatant commands worldwide.
During their mission in the Afghan mountains, a four-man SEAL ground element, including Sonar Technician Surface (SEAL) 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, Gunner's Mate (SEAL) 2nd Class Danny P. Dietz and Lt. Michael P. Murphy, were attacked by a superior number of Taliban fighters.
A helicopter-borne quick reaction force responded to the SEALs' call for help but was shot down, killing all 16 SEALs and SOAR "Night Stalkers" aboard. Former Hospital Corpsman (SEAL) 1st Class Marcus Luttrell, who was also part of the ground element, was critically wounded during the attack and the only member of his team to survive the battle.
Luttrell evaded capture and was later discovered and protected by a tribe of local Pashtun villagers until his rescue by U.S. forces four days later.
Aboard the helicopter were: Chief Fire Controlman (SEAL) Jacques Fontan; Staff Sgt. Shamus O. Goare; Army Chief Warrant Officer Corey J. Goodnature; Senior Chief Information Systems Technician (SEAL) Daniel R. Healy; Army Sgt. Kip A. Jacoby; Lt. Cmdr. (SEAL) Erik S. Kristensen; Electronics Technician 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffery A. Lucas; Lt. (SEAL) Michael M. McGreevy; Machinist's Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) E. Shane Patton; Army Master Sgt. James W. Ponder III; Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Russell; Army Chief Warrant Officer Chris J. Scherkenback; Quartermaster 2nd Class (SEAL) James E. Suh; Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (SEAL) Jeffrey S. Taylor.
"We came here today to dedicate this memorial so that people from all over the world can come and witness true American heroes," said Command Master Chief (SEAL) Michael Slinger, command master chief of NSWG 3, the parent command for SDV Teams 1 and 2, who had served with team members that were lost that day in 2005."
"These men made the ultimate sacrifice," Slinger said. "[They] embody our core values of honor, courage and commitment."
"We want to honor our veterans that are alive and deceased," said Joanie Miyashiro-Brennan, executive director of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association.
"The SEAL is -- what we used to say -- the 'quiet professional,'" said "Woody," a SEAL senior chief petty officer at NSWG 3. "The plaque dedication ceremony is just a quiet way [to pay our respects]. Nothing fancy; there's not a speech about it... it's quiet."
The chief's mess raised $1,000 through fundraisers and events to purchase the 12 inch by 8 inch plaque to be placed on the "wall of heroes," according to Chief Electrician's Mate Hilario Gudez, a SEAL Delivery Vehicle technician with NSWG 3 who helped organize the memorial dedication.
Gudez was quick to point out, however, that he and his fellow chiefs did not make the decision to pay tribute to the fallen.
"It's not actually a decision, it's our obligation to our fallen brothers," said Gudez, emphasizing the debt that he believes all service members should feel to those who have fought and died for their country. "Things like this? We give our 100 percent respect. We have to do it!"
Adam, a SEAL lieutenant said, "There's not a SEAL alive, whether they knew them or not, that doesn't think about those guys."
"One of the biggest things in SOF is the whole concept that you never forget," said Woody. "A lot of people use the term, and a lot of people say 'never forget,' but in special warfare, we really try to instill it. During a SEAL funeral, for instance, the SEALs go up, pull their 'bird (the Naval Special Warfare insignia worn by qualified Navy SEALs) off, and lay it on the casket. The symbolism is that you are all part of this great thing and by losing someone, you are losing a piece of yourself. You are something of the larger piece. And it gets buried... We're leaving a piece of ourselves behind when we leave that person there."
"Memorials, plaques, statues - they're not for the dead ... they're for everybody else," he said.
And those at the Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial agree.
"Mount Soledad has become such a place of solace," said Miyashiro-Brennan. "Those who have lost loved ones go up there and they feel very close to their husband or their wife... because it is a place of comfort."
"It means a lot to a lot of different people," she said.
When the plaque dedication ceremony was complete, and the few unvarnished, but heartfelt, words had been uttered in respect and remembrance of their brothers, the men in the wind-whipped khaki uniforms dispersed. Some depart, indeed, as if leaving a piece of themselves behind.
Some paused to read the words at the bottom of the black granite plaque, written in the same straightforward way that the men honored on it lived their lives: "They will never be forgotten."
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