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With grief and resolve, Ft. Stewart salutes 4 dead
Yellow ribbons hung from light posts and American flags waved on cars and lawns--symbols of a town proud of its soldiers fighting in Iraq. But residents here are also grieving that some of them won't be coming back.
After a weekend of anxiety, people at Ft. Stewart learned the names of the four soldiers killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq, all of whom had been stationed at this sprawling Army base.
Pfc. Michael Russell Creighton Weldon, 21, of Palm Bay, Fla.; Spec. Michael Edward Curtin, 23, of Howell, N.J.; Pfc. Diego Fernando Rincon, 20, of Conyers, Ga.; and Sgt. Eugene Williams, 24, of Highland, N.Y., were killed Saturday when a man posing as a taxi driver pulled up to a security checkpoint near Najaf and detonated a bomb.
All were members of the 3rd Infantry Division based at Ft. Stewart, though none had relatives at the base.
A fifth soldier from Ft. Stewart, Sgt. Roderic Solomon, 32, of Fayetteville, N.C., was killed Friday in an accident involving his Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
Williams' wife, Brandy, fought back tears Monday as she talked about her husband on NBC's "Today" show.
Williams, who is pregnant and has a 3-year-old daughter, said she would tell the children that their father gave his life for his country, "and that even though he's not here, he loves them with all his heart and that he's always going to be our hero."
News of her husband's death spread quickly Sunday through Highland, N.Y., 70 miles south of Albany. Relatives said his loss brought them closer and made them realize just how quickly death could come.
In Palm Bay, Fla., Sgt. Maj. Jean Weldon spoke with pride about her son, Michael, who had left behind a fiance so he could follow in his mother's footsteps. Jean Weldon recently retired after two decades in the military.
"He chose infantry because he's a tough guy," said Weldon. "My son was the strength of the household."
Yellow ribbons also flew in Rincon's hometown of Conyers, outside Atlanta. A native of Colombia who moved to the U.S. in 1989, Rincon wanted to avenge the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks so he enlisted in the Army shortly afterward.
In Howell, N.J., Michael and Joan Curtin issued a statement commending their son, Michael, for his bravery, faith and love for his family.
"He was fighting for our freedom, which we should never take for granted. He was a hero in our eyes," they said.
There have been six deaths among the 16,500 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division on the front lines of the war. The latest news sent ripples of anxiety through the tightknit base and across Hinesville, a community interwoven with the base.
Some wives breathed a sigh of relief that they had not received that dreaded knock at the door of someone delivering a death notification. They grieved, though, for the families that did.
"When it happens to someone in your unit, in the back of your mind you always think it could be your husband or someone you know. That makes if very hard," said Angela Sirolli, 20, whose husband, Cpl. Brandon Sirolli, 19, serves in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, the same unit as the men who were killed.
But it was business as usual for most of the soldiers at Ft. Stewart. They cannot afford to let such a tragedy stand in the way of the job they have ahead.
"You can't get wrapped up in the emotions too much because it will make you crazy," said Sgt. 1st Class Francis Banets, a reservist in the 87th Training Division in Birmingham, Ala.
"You have to stay focused and remain somewhat removed," he added.