Service Held At Fort Hood To Remember Victims
NEAL CONAN, host:
This is special coverage from NPR News. Im Neal Conan, in Washington.
A memorial ceremony is about to get underway at Fort Hood, Texas, where a gunman killed 13 people last week and injured 42 others. President Obama flew to Texas from Washington today and will be among those to speak. Since Air Force One touched down about an hour ago, the president and the first lady have been meeting privately with the families of the victims. Afterwards, they plan to visit some of the wounded in the hospital.
Today, we will also hear from the commanding officer at Fort Hood, Lieutenant General Robert Cone, and from the U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George Casey. With thousands of soldiers, civilians and other mourners expected, the Army improvised an amphitheater in front of the Third Corps headquarters building on Fort Hood. Its enclosed by a curtain of steel shipping containers stacked three high, about 35 feet or so off the ground.
For hours now, soldiers in uniform have been marching to this site from all around this enormous facility. The site can accommodate maybe 20,000 people. Of course, members of their families are with them, as well.
The ceremony is set to begin by the playing of the national anthem. Coming down the steps of the Third Corps headquarters building are members of the families. These are the people that the president and the first lady had been meeting with, members of those who were killed last week in the incident on Fort Hood.
In front of the lectern thats been set up, theres a platform, 13 boxes made of wood, two tiers with a picture of each of those who were killed last week on the lower level. Then on the upper level, well, a symbol weve come to recognize all too clearly: boots and a rifle with a helmet on top and the soldiers ID tags wrapped around.
Its a bright, sunny day in Texas, warm for this time of the year, just a few white clouds in the sky. Were waiting for the president and the first lady to arrive to begin the ceremony. Dignitaries continue to come down the steps of the Third Corps headquarters building.
(Soundbite of song, America the Beautiful)
CONAN: The music were listening to is being played by the 1st Cavalry Division band. And again, more of the families of those killed last week are being escorted down the steps of the headquarters building. Fort Hood, one of the largest military facilities - I think the largest military facility in the United States.
(Soundbite of song, America the Beautiful)
CONAN: The scene where the shooting took place was in a readiness facility, where men and women were on their way to prepare to be shipped overseas to deploy to Afghanistan and to Iraq.
(Soundbite of song, America the Beautiful)
CONAN: Many of the people in the crowd are wearing red, white and blue banners on their clothing to commemorate this event. Obviously, the flag in front of that headquarters building flying at half staff.
(Soundbite of song, America the Beautiful)
CONAN: Soldiers dressed in camouflage uniforms with black berets, all kinds of units represented. Part of this service were going to hear today is a final roll call. The command sergeant major will call the names of the dead. Of course, there will be no answer.
(Soundbite of song, America the Beautiful)
CONAN: There have been many reports since this incident happened about how Fort Hood is getting back to normal, about how people there are going about their routines, about how these people, of all people, are accustomed to sudden loss. Nevertheless, this incident is something special. It happened in their home, in their garrison, a place where they expect to be safe. The person whos believed to have committed the crime, not just an officer, but a man whos a psychiatrist.
(Soundbite of song, America the Beautiful)
CONAN: Profound effect on many people, not just at Fort Hood, but around the world.
(Soundbite of song, America the Beautiful)
CONAN: More family members now coming down the steps of the Third Corps headquarters building as we prepare to get ready for this ceremony.
(Soundbite of song, America the Beautiful)
CONAN: Just in the past week or so, President Obama, before this incident, had made an appearance at Dover Air Force Base, which, of course, is the site where the bodies of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan come back to the United States, and participated in one of the ceremonies there. Hed also recently been to visit Walter Reed, the U.S. Army hospital here in Washington, D.C.
Well, interestingly, its where the alleged shooter was based for six-and-a-half years before he went to Fort Hood, but its also where so many of the injured are recuperating from their wounds and receiving prosthetic limbs, in many cases.
You can hear children in the background of all ages, members of families of people who are living on Fort Hood. And, of course, this ceremony will be watched by servicemen and women all around the world, not just in this country, but certainly those in Iraq and Afghanistan and based in so many other countries around the world.
Behind the lectern, an enormous American flag that decks the front of the headquarters of the Third Corps. Flags of the various units are spaced around -so many people at Fort Hood, so many different units. Its not just one division or one brigade.
The Army has also made a point that the imam at the mosque at which the alleged shooter worshipped has been invited, especially, to attend this ceremony. After the national anthem, were going to hear Chaplain Michael Lembke deliver the invocation. Hes the senior chaplain at Fort Hood and a chaplain in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. After that, well hear from Lieutenant General Robert Cone, whos the commander of the post at Fort Hood.
He will be succeeded by General George Casey, the U.S. Army chief of staff, and then by the commander-in-chief, the president of the United States. At that point, well hear Amazing Grace sung by Master Sergeant Natasha Hartley, and then Chaplain Michael Lembke will deliver the Benediction, that before Command Sergeant Major Donald Felt speaks the final roll call. Then the 21-gun salute and Taps.
The president postponed a trip to Asia to be able to attend this event. He will be departing on that visit on Friday, but obviously wanted to be here in Fort Hood for this service today. Tomorrow, he will be back in Washington, D.C. Tomorrow, of course, is Veterans Day, and the president of the United States will go to Arlington National Cemetery, as the president does every single year on this day to present a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns.
Later that day, hell be at the White House to convene a meeting of his senior advisers to discuss options for Afghanistan. But as Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today, the president and his advisers will be discussing four different options, ways ahead. No decision has been made as of yet, and Robert Gibbs would not be drawn on what those options were. There have been various accounts in the media that 34,000 troops will be sent to Afghanistan, 34,000 additional troops, or maybe as many as 40,000. No decision has been made, Robert Gibbs said today.
Various levels, various approaches will be discussed at that meeting tomorrow, and the president plans to announce his decision within the next few weeks -sometime in the next two weeks, perhaps. Hes been criticized, as you probably know, for not making the decision more rapidly.
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CONAN: This is the first time, really, that President Obama will be stepping into the role of mourner-in-chief. The president of the United States - well, too often these past several years - has been called upon to take on this role. Part of the commander-in-chief, part of his duties, part of the chief of state, part of his duties you remember Ronald Reagan speaking to the nation after the Challenger disaster, President Bill Clinton speaking in Oklahoma City after the terrible bombing there, and, of course, President Bush speaking in New York and then later before a joint session of Congress after 9/11.
Moments like that, well, no president wants them, but they are moments where he is called upon. And President Obama has, of course, his oratorical skills are among the most celebrated in recent presidential history. Among those in attendance, Senator John McCain, his opponent in the last presidential election, now the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee - of course, the senator from Arizona, himself a former Naval officer, prisoner of war in Vietnam for many years.
Estimated 15,000 people gathered on the grounds at Fort Hood today, in front f the headquarters building of the Third Corps, sort of a central structure and then two wings that extend outwards. And then theres been a sort of improvised structure behind that to enclose it of containers, the kinds of things you see on the back of tractor trailers here in the United States, on the roads or on the tops of railroad cars that are shipped overseas, shipping containers.
And thats provided an enclosed and secure place. I dont think there is, on Fort Hood, a facility thats large enough to accommodate 15, 20,000 people, those numbers expected at this memorial service for the 13 men and women who were killed last week in the terrible incident at the Readiness Center at Fort Hood.
A few members of the families of those who were killed last week continue to come down the steps of the headquarters building. Theyve been meeting with the president and the first lady after Air Force One touched down. The president and his entourage left Washington, D.C. earlier today. Hes expected back in the nations capital this evening.
This is special coverage from NPR News. Were awaiting the start of this memorial ceremony, which will begin with the national anthem. Wed expect to see the president himself and other dignitaries come down the steps and take their positions before were ready.
If youre just joining us, there is a poignant reminder of those who were killed last week in front of the platform that holds the lectern.
(Soundbite of song, Fairest Lord Jesus)
CONAN: Boxes that have been set up with two tiers - 13 of them, of course, one for each of those killed. On the lower level is a small portrait of the victim, and then on the upper level, tan combat boots, the erect rifle bayonet down, the helmet perched on top, and the ID tags, the dog tags wrapped around the rifle.
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CONAN: Were listening to the 1st Cavalry Division band.
(Soundbite of song, Fairest Lord Jesus)
CONAN: With me here in the studio in Washington is Amy Goldstein, a national reporter for the Washington Post. And shes been helping us - shes here with us today. Shes been working on biographies of those who were killed last week. And, Amy, its good of you to be with us today.
Ms. AMY GOLDSTEIN (Reporter, The Washington Post): Good to be with you.
CONAN: And can you tell us a little bit about some of those people? The president, were told, will mention each of them in his speech today, but I know youve been looking into their backgrounds.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: Well, there were 13 people who are killed, all but one of them a member of the military and one civilian. And one of the things thats striking is the diversity of who lost their lives at Fort Hood last week. They range in age from 19 to 62. They came from all over the country, from big cities like Chicago and San Diego and from rural places in Wisconsin.
One of the things that struck me particularly was that nearly half of the victims, the people who were killed, were themselves in healing jobs in the military. They was a psychologist, a nurse practitioner, a couple of physicians assistants. So, as you were saying of the alleged assailant, it wasnt just that he was an officer, he was in a position to be trying to help other people purportedly. Well, many of the people, six of the 13 people who were killed had jobs in which they, too, were doing that.
CONAN: They were in this building, in this facility, getting ready, taking shots, that sort of thing on their way to be deployed.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: Well, they were doing all kinds of things. Some were ready to go overseas, a couple were coming back. There was one woman, a very young woman at the age of 21 from Chicago, who was on her way to a maternity leave because she just found out that she was pregnant with her first child. So she was coming home from Iraq to spend the rest of her pregnancy in Chicago.
CONAN: With her family and, well, to look to a future that was not to be. The incident that happened, we dont know the motivation of the alleged shooter. Hes not even been charged in the crime yet. Hes still in a hospital in San Antonio. Hes met with his attorneys and has declined to speak with investigators as, of course, is his right. Theres all kinds of speculation about what happened and why. We may never know what happened and why.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: Thats right. There are fragments of information that are starting to come out, but they dont exactly add up to a complete picture of motivation. There are some speculation - which is a word that you use, I think, is a fair word - that he himself was under a lot of strain because he very much was against the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and had been unsuccessfully trying to avoid being deployed to Afghanistan himself.
Theres starting to be a little bit of information that he had been in touch with an imam who had some fairly hard-line views. Whether that played any role in these shootings, we just dont have a sense yet. We know just in the last day that while he was finishing his training at Walter Reed, because he was training there in psychiatry and doing some graduate work there, all of the people who are in his sort of cadre of people who are being trained had to, as part of their preparations, give a presentation.
Most presented something about some issue in medicine. He gave a very unusual presentation - one of my colleagues reported this mornings Washington Post -in which he essentially warned that Muslims should not be made to go to these conflicts because it was very unfortunate, he alleged, to put them in a position of essentially fighting members of their fellow religion.
CONAN: Of course, a psychiatrist, he would not be fighting per se, but nevertheless supporting those who would be.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: Exactly.
CONAN: And, in fact, doing that at Walter Reed and doing that at Fort Hood as well. That may, may have been some of the source of his conflicts. Were speaking with Amy Goldstein, a national reporter for the Washington Post, whos been looking into this story and into the backgrounds of those who were killed at Fort Hood last week. This is special coverage from NPR News. Were waiting for a memorial service to get underway there at Fort Hood, Texas.
The president of the United States and the first lady flew down to Killeen this morning, and they are - been meeting with the families of those who were killed. After this service is completed, were told that they also plan to go visit some of those still in the hospital. Fifteen people still in the hospital as a result of the attack at Fort Hood last week.
And joining us down from WFPO, our member station in Louisville, Kentucky, is General Mike Davidson, retired major general. Mike, good to speak with you as always.
Major General MICHAEL DAVIDSON: Thank you, Neal. Tough duty on a tough day, young man.
CONAN: Yes. Im sure this is on a scale that youve not seen before, but I doubt this is your first memorial service.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Its not. And let me just throw out one point for you while youre waiting for the ceremony to start. In my experience, political leaders -be they governors or presidents - somehow seem to have an almost unique ability to offer comfort to the families at a time like this. And I dont know whether its because theyre used to nuances or whether we invest a lot in our political leaders, but whatever the source is, its a remarkable thing and Im glad the president has taken the time to do it.
CONAN: The commander-in-chief is something taken very seriously by the members of - by people in uniform.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It is. And these kinds of ceremonies provide a - closure may not be the right word, but its always best to get it by together, recognize the loss so that you can pick up and move on with the mission. And our sergeants, lieutenants do that on the battlefield, and our presidents do it at events like this.
CONAN: The symbolism of the tan boots, the erect rifle, the helmet, the ID tags, where does that go back to?
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: I think it came from marking the grave, for early marking the grave, I would guess in World War I, but Im guessing about that. And if it was a 1st Cav, it was an all-1st Cav event, they would have Stetsons on those weapons rather than helmets.
CONAN: Thats the characteristic headgear of the 1st Cavalry Division.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Right.
CONAN: This is III Corps headquarters, though. Corps suggests more than one division of course, Fort Hood, the home of the armored.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Thats true, and Stetsons for a long time and they may still be not entirely according to regulation. It was sort of a self-awarded headgear started in Vietnam in the 1st Cav. So there may be some protocol here Im not aware of.
CONAN: As we continue to wait for the ceremony to begin, let me turn back to Amy Goldstein. Just a couple of people, were going to hear their names called by the president himself in his address and, of course, later in the roll call that were all going to be hearing as part of this ceremony, but some of those who have jumped out at you, of particular interest.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: Well, a couple of people struck me in particular because of sort of the randomness of how it was that they happened to be at Fort Hood at that moment in their lives. For instance, there was one gentleman named John Gaffaney, who is a 56-year-old man from San Diego, who had had a full career as an Army - retire as an Army major and then had a second career as a psychiatric nurse working for San Diego County. He had a job supervising people who worked with elderly adults who were physically abused or going through a mental health crisis.
And at this point and well into middle age, he really wanted to get back to active duty in the military. So he went to a review board to try to persuade them to let him into the active duty part of the reserves. And for three years, the review board had said no because he had had hearing problems and they didnt know that he was fit.
And I spoke late last week with one of his co-workers for San Diego County, who told me that he basically, just as you put it, he wore them down and they relented, they let him in. He reported to Fort Hood November 1st, thats the week before he was killed.
CONAN: General Davidson, thats a characteristic of this conflict in recent years. Yes, of course, there are 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds, thats the bulk of the Army. Nevertheless, there is an older element that has come back to service in this particular conflict.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Absolutely. And I think part of it is when we talk about the Army family, were talking about the whole Army, the whole thing. And if youd been a part of it and the rest of your family is in danger, you have an impulse. Its generally called moving to the sound of the firing. You want to get back in and help where you can, help the Army family.
CONAN: I know you spent a fair amount of time there in Kentucky, at Fort Campbell, but nevertheless, what can you tell us about Fort Hood?
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Its huge. And Im a Special Forces guy, so when I went down to the tank world at Fort Hood, it was an eye-opening experience. The one thing I can tell you with great certainty - and everybody at Fort Hood, I think, will agree with me - you dont want to swing your hammock next to Cow Creek when it rains
(Soundbite of laughter)
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: and the waters come out of the banks very quickly. But its a huge training area. The only other comparable maneuver site we have -Bob Cone commanded the National Training Center out at Fort Irwin, California. So its a great maneuver area, and were lucky to have it.
CONAN: By the way, were getting a shot of the 1st Cavalry Division Band, and indeed they are wearing the Stetsons that you were talking about earlier.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Authorized or not, theyre going to wear those things.
CONAN: This is special coverage from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington. We're speaking with retired Major General Michael Davidson and with Amy Goldstein, the national reporter for the Washington Post. We're waiting for a memorial service to get underway at Fort Hood in Texas where the president of the United States is among those who is going to be speaking on behalf of those who were killed last week. The president has been getting a lot of questions about the investigation and what's going to happen and how he's going to make sure that this will never happen again.
This is not the moment for such things. This is a moment to remember the dead. This is a moment to remember that there are still 15 people in hospital and others still recovering from their injuries after this incident last week. And it's a moment to remember what the mission is and why it is important for all of these men and women to get up and get about their business because, well, we can't stop. It is a moment that the Army cannot pause and wait too long.
It came as no surprise, I'm sure, to you, General Mike, that we saw pictures in the papers just a couple of days afterwards of troops up doing PT and getting ready and going about their business.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Well, you're right. The mission doesn't stop. You have to pause and recognize it and then move on. And I suspect Amy may have found some of this when she was doing her profiling. Each of these people, including a civilian who was a retired Army guy, had received some combat training to some extent and all had received emergency medical training. So I suspect from the stories I'm hearing about the events right after the shooting stopped, or in fact even while the shooting was still going on, we have fewer people to mourn today because of the response in the training of the men and women who were in that readiness center.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: That's right. I mean, none of us were there when this horrible rampage occurred. But reports from people who were there have made it clear that there was a very quick response that people who are standing around just kind of leaped to drag people out of the way, both injured people and people who are at risk of being injured.
And one of the most, just remarkable stories of sort of quick action and brave action was that of the woman who shot the alleged shooter. She was a police officer in the Army, and she just went rushing up to him and started firing at him. So, you know, the antithesis of somebody getting out of harm's way, she was putting herself in harm's way. She was shot herself four times. She is recovering now, but she was hurt pretty badly.
CONAN: There's a story I heard, a rather hefty sergeant who was himself shot four times by the assailant, and obviously, in quite a bit of distress, and picked up and carried out of the facility by a friend of his about half his size and that - I don't know where he got the strength to do that, but never the less, he saved my life. There's going to be many stories like that.
Can you go through another of your profiles for us and tell us about somebody else who was there that day?
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. I guess another theme that runs through some of these people's life experiences and their motivations for joining the military is just - it sounds kind of corny to say it but I think it's legitimate - is just this urge to serve.
So for instance, there was one woman who was killed whose name is Amy Krueger, and she comes from a very, very small rural community of Kiel, Wisconsin, a town of about 3,200 people. And she graduated from high school in the late '90s and was in college studying to be a social worker. And she - the morning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, you know, was two-thirds the way across the country and watched them on TV. And the next week, she and another young woman, who was her roommate at the time, went to the local recruiting office, said that they wanted to enlist. And she has been in the Army ever since.
And a very small local newspaper called the Tri-County Times did a profile of Amy Krueger two years after she had been in the Army. And she had just come back from her first deployment in Afghanistan working for a very, very small hospital there. And she said in the story that she had felt - she enlisted because she felt as if she had needed to be what she said was an army of one. And her mother who was interviewed in this little newspaper story was quoted as saying to her, you can't take this on all by yourself. And Amy Krueger is quoted as having replied, just watch me.
CONAN: There's another group of men and women coming down the stairs, most of the men in uniform, some on crutches, many wearing that red, white and blue decoration on their left collar. I believe they're coming out of a meeting that they may have had with the president and the first lady. There's a man with a sling - his left arm in a sling.
You're listening to special coverage from NPR News.
We're awaiting the start of a memorial ceremony at Fort Hood in Texas to remember those killed last week in the shooting incident on Fort Hood. The president of the United States arrived in Texas about an hour and a half ago and has been meeting with members of the families of those killed.
The ceremony has been set-up as sort of an ad hoc arrangement outside the headquarters of III Corps there at Fort Hood. It's a rather large administrative building with a central area and two wings, and it's been enclosed by stacks of steel container, shipping containers. About 15,000 to 20,000 people can fit. And, of course, there may be that many soldiers on the base at any one time, plus family members, children of all ages have crowded in to participate in the ceremony. Of course, some people have to go about their business. They've got jobs to do on the post and that has to go on as well.
The president is there, the secretary of Veterans Affairs who came down with him from Washington, D.C., as well as the first lady. We saw Senator John McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee there, of course, the Republican candidate for president in the last election.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Neal, can I throw in an additional point on what Amy was talking about?
CONAN: Go ahead, please.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: There was a story making the rounds in the media last week, I think about 75 percent of the Americans who were 17 to 24 years old are not eligible to serve in the military. That's true. That's been true for several years. But I think we got the story wrong. I think what that really tells us is that the young men and women joining our military are from the top 25 percent in terms of education, staying out of trouble with the law, physical well-being. And even from that 25 percent, the ones who are in uniform had made themselves even morally, in my view, by their actions of joining to serve the country. Much as Amy was talking about, this young lady coming in after 9/11. So the Army is one family, and it's a pretty good family to be a part of.
CONAN: As you were speaking, a young woman in uniform helped down the stairs of the III Corps headquarters and then helped into a wheelchair and so she could take her place with those participating in the ceremony at Fort Hood today. Now, more family members coming down the steps as we continue to get ready for this service. Amy, another profile, if you will.
MS. GOLDSTEIN: Well, let me just follow on the point that our other participant just made which is that it's an elite, but it's also a very ethnically and culturally diverse group of people who are in the Armed Forces these days.
One of the young men who was killed is named Kham Xiong and he was 23. He came from St. Paul. And he was the second generation of his family to be in the military. But his father wasn't in the U.S. military. His father was from Laos and had been in that military during the Vietnam War and had wanted his son to be in the U.S. military.
And his son, Kham, just through this sort of bad quirk of timing, was standing in line to get a flu shot and a vision test before he was going to be deployed some months later and was in the line of fire.
CONAN: I really like hearing the story this morning about the Vietnamese boat person, former boat person, who left the country in 1975 at five years old and returned as the commander of a U.S. warship in Da Nang on a protocol visit just a couple of days ago. Of course, the Laosian gentleman you're talking about, of course, ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And there is no indication that we have as yet that the shooter was aiming at people in particular, that this was aimed at any individuals so far as we know.
Nevertheless, each of these families will bear a certain kind of General Mike, it's got to be very different for somebody to lose somebody in combat, as horrible as that is, but to lose someone in an incident like this.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It is. It's incomprehensible. And you were correct before when you said that his motive makes no difference today. We've got other duties to perform today. And the idea that this person was suffering from pre-traumatic stress disorder is entirely reasonable because our medical service people take on an enormous amount of baggage from dealing with the post-traumatic stress disorder that is much more widely recognized now than it was before. We're making enormous strides. There's a Center of Excellence in Washington for post-traumatic stress disorder. We've matured beyond the days when it was take two salt tablets and drive on.
CONAN: Indeed. The other characteristic injury of this war has been traumatic brain injury and indeed a lot of work on in that regard.
Let's turn back to Amy Goldstein.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: Now, you were making the point that there's been so much suffering this week from families. And it's not as if families of members of the military have no reason to expect that their children or their spouses are going to be in harm's way.
And, you know, just to put this in perspective a little bit, I looked up how many people have been killed lately in the places where one would expect people to be in harm's way. So last month alone, my newspaper has reported there were 47 casualties in Afghanistan and six in Iraq. So it's not...
CONAN: By casualties, you mean...
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: People who are killed.
CONAN: ...killed in action.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: Right, fatal casualties.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: So it's not the volume of dust here that's so stunning, it's that they happened in a place where one would not have expected people to be in the harm's way. And then talking with some of their relatives the days after these deaths, there was just a sense of normalcy in the interactions with their families just before they died.
One mom, mother of a 32-year-old staff sergeant named Justin DeCrow who was from Georgia and was actually on his way out of the military. He was just at Fort Hood for a brief period of time while awaiting a discharge, for paperwork to come through. I had asked his mom when she had last been in touch with him. And if you think about the weekend before the shooting, it was Halloween weekend.
Ms. GOLDSTEIN: And she said that she last heard from her son Justin when he sent her a text message that said, Happy Halloween. I love you. And I said to her, what did you write back? And she said, same to you, love you back. And she just had no way of conceiving that that would be their final interaction.
CONAN: Every president has said that the most difficult part of his job has been to send those letters of condolence to the families of those who were killed in the service of their country and President Obama has been no exception to that. It is something that is not unique though to the president of the United States.
General Mike, I know that as a junior officer, you were in command of units and you had to write those letters too.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It's wrenching. It's absolutely gut-wrenching to have to do it. The person in my army for the last 30 or 40 years that did it best, I think, was Lieutenant General Retired Hal Moore, who wrote a wonderful book called "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young." General Moore is one of the few people that get to say, somebody played me in the movie. I mean, you just don't...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: We just don't have a lot of generals who get played in the movie.
But he wrote the letters then he followed up after he came back from Vietnam. He personally visited the graves of each of his soldiers who had been killed. There are lots of other officers who'd do that. I don't know of anybody that did it quite that thoroughly or quite that well.
CONAN: What can you say you struggled to make the words meaningful yet they're how do you make them not sound, well, inadequate?
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: It doesn't matter what you say. It just matters that you're there. And it doesn't matter what presidents say or governors say, because governors have to do this when members of the National Guard...
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: ...are killed. It doesn't matter what you say. It's just that you're there offering comfort, solace and it, as I've mentioned earlier, it's a nearly unique skill that presidents and governors bring to bear. And it's of enormous value to the families. It makes no difference to the public nor should it. But it's enormously valuable to the families.
CONAN: And the tradition, of course, no man left behind, the military traditions that have been so important and interesting. I've been a reading a book about Arlington National Cemetery and of this...
(Soundbite of music)
CONAN: Well, we're hearing the skirl of the bagpipes there from Killeen, Texas, Fort Hood. So perhaps, we're getting ready for the ceremony to get underway. It had been scheduled to start about 40 minutes ago at the top of the hour. It may have been that the meetings that the president and the first lady had with some of the family members of those killed on Fort Hood last week lasted a little longer. That can happen.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Neal, on your point of no man left behind...
(Soundbite of cheering)
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Something's happening.
CONAN: Yup. Some of the dignitaries are coming down the steps.
Maj. Gen. DAVIDSON: Let me give credit to the Marine Corps. When it comes to no man left behind, the Marines are better at that than anyone.
CONAN: The president and the first lady are now coming down the steps from the III Corps headquarters building on Fort Hood and taking their place as the ceremony is now about ready to get underway. Again, a reminder, we're going to be hearing the national anthem to begin and then Michael Lembke, the chaplain, the senior chaplain at Fort Hood and the chaplain in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will recite the invocation, then we'll be hearing from Lieutenant General Robert Cone.
Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the playing of our national anthem and remain standing for the invocation given by the III Corps chaplain, Chaplain Colonel Mike Lembke.
CONAN: And now, we'll listen to the ceremony if we could.
(Soundbite of song, "The Star-Spangled Banner")
Colonel MIKE LEMBKE (Chaplain, III Corps, U.S. Army): Let us pray. Lord God Almighty, we commend ourselves to you this day and ask for your eternal wisdom and divine strength to empower us, individually and as a nation, to face this tragedy with confident hope and a willingness to carry on as we support one another in grief and in healing. We call to mind those whom we honor in this sacred time and space. Juanita, Michael, John, Francheska, Jason, Amy, Libardo, Aaron, Russell, Justin, Michael, Kham and Frederick, draws to you, oh, Lord, as we draw close to one another. Sustain us in our grief, carry us in our sorrow, and in time, restore to us a spirit of joy and hope. Amen.
Unidentified Group: Amen.
Col. LEMBKE: Please be seated.
Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, the commanding general of III Corps in Fort Hood, Lieutenant General Robert Cone.
Lieutenant General ROBERT CONE (Commanding General, III Corps and Fort Hood): President and Mrs. Obama, Governor Perry, Secretary Gates, General Shinseki, Governor Doyle, members of Congress, Secretary McHugh, Admiral and Mrs. Mullen, General and Mrs. Casey, Sergeant Major of the Army Preston, distinguished visitors from our nation's capital and the state of Texas, soldiers, civilians and most of all, families and friends, thank you for being with us today.
Today, we gather to mourn the loss of 13 American heroes. Drawn from 11 different states across this nation, they answered the call of service to others. They ranged in age from 19 to 62. Three were women, 10 were men. Among them, they had 19 children and one of them had a child on the way.
They had hobbies that ranged from playing the guitar and drums to snowboarding. Each of them brought joy to their friends and families. But the biggest trait they had in common was to volunteer to be part of something bigger than themselves and serve our great nation. In doing so, they became members of our extended Army family. Our hearts and prayers go out to those families who have borne the loss of this terrible tragedy. No words can ever fully address your grief and sadness, but it is important to know that you are not alone. Others share some part of the tremendous sense of loss that you feel. I want every family member to know that our Army family deeply mourns the loss of your loved ones. The Fort Hood community shares your sorrow as we move forward together in the spirit of resiliency.
Fort Hood and Central Texas are home to one of the largest concentrations of soldiers and families in our Army. We have tremendous pride in our soldiers exceptional character, competence and commitment. We will never be accustomed to losing one of our own, but we can more easily accept it when it happens on foreign soil against an unknown enemy. Fort Hood has lost 545 from its formations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but never did we expect to pay such a high price at home, a place where soldiers feel secure. Even so, soldiers do what soldiers do best. They take care of each other in time of need.
At the incident scene, there were many acts of courage and bravery. Just by soldiers remembering their training, lives were saved. Were it not for their remarkable abilities, this incident could have been far worse. Some soldiers, many wounded, performed first aid on their battle buddies before worrying about receiving treatment for themselves. Many had never met prior to that day, but became forever linked by this tragedy. They all came together at a place in time on November 5th, doing their duty for the Army, for their families and for the American people.
Our soldiers live, work, serve and fight as teams. The currency of our profession is a bond of trust in a deep sense of caring about each other. The nature of our business demands that we rise above the fear and doubt generated by this horrific event.
In times like these, our Army family and surrounding community pull together in selfless service. There were countless instances of our steadfast Fort Hood and Central Texas community showing its support in the hours that followed this incident.
We will always remember the brave and committed action of the first responders at the crime scene. The medical professionals from our area hospitals treated the wounded with the utmost care and concern. There were donations of food and lodging to families traveling from out of state. The community answered the call when there was a need for blood to help the wounded. These are just a few examples of the generosity of our friends and neighbors.
Nothing can erase our grief over the loss of the loved ones we honor here today, but our commitment to our country, our Army and our families will help us move forward together. From this day on, we must renew our resolve and commitment to our mission. This Army and the fine men and women who are our Army remain firmly committed to fight and win our nations wars. They, along with the families who love and care for them, are determined to provide enduring service to our nation.
As we remember the victims who died here at Fort Hood, may our service be a continuing tribute to each of them. May God bless you, may God bless our soldiers, families and the United States of America.
(Soundbite of applause)
Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, the chief of staff of the Army, General George Casey.
General GEORGE CASEY (Chief of Staff, U.S. Army): Good afternoon. President and Mrs. Obama, Governor Perry, Governor Doyle, Secretary Gates, Secretary Shinseki, many distinguished members of Congress from across the state of Texas and across the country, secretary to the Army John McHugh, Admiral and Mrs. Mike Mullen, families and friends.
It's a tradition in one of our special operations units to go to the Book of Isaiah when they're eulogizing fallen comrades. Proud of their willingness to accept any challenge for this country, at the funeral they read, then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, whom shall I send? And who will go for us? Then I said, here am I. Send me.
This passage conveys a sentiment that applies to every soldier in our Army. It gives voice to a spirit of service that lives in every soldier. It's a spirit we saw in the 13 soldiers who gave their lives here - men and women who believed in the values and ideals this country stands for, and men and women who willingly served those ideals. Newlyweds, single moms, immigrants, teenagers, and 50-somethings - all bound together by the common desire to find meaning in something greater than themselves.
The violence that led to the deaths of these 13 Americans and the wounding of dozens of others was unimaginable. It was a kick in the gut. The men and women who were killed had more than a century of service to this country, and their loss left 19 children, spouses, parents and untold loved ones.
What happened this past Thursday will impact the families, the Fort Hood community and our Army for a long time to come. But the shock and selflessness of the tragedy, with that came the courageous actions of the first responders, the caregivers, the selflessness of fellow soldiers who risked their lives to help one another, the calm leadership of the command and the overwhelming outpouring support from the community. These responses in the aftermath of tragedy have been uplifting, if not heroic.
That we saw countless examples for our warrior ethos in action last week is a great source of pride. Our soldiers and Army civilians lived the warrior ethos that day just as our soldiers and civilians live it every day in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world: I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. And I will never leave a fallen comrade. Our ethos and values are woven into the very fabric of our Army. Our soldiers are cut from the cloth of this great country - a country they love and serve in a time of war.
We all serve at a time when the stakes for our country and our way of life are high. Yet, in every generation when faced with difficult challenges, Americans have risen to the occasion. Today, our soldiers answer the call to serve with the same pride and professionalism that has marked the United States Army service for the past 234 years.
Yes, our soldiers, civilians, and their families carry a heavy burden in this war, yet their willingness to sacrifice to preserve our way of life and to build a better future for others is a great strength of this nation. They, as do the 13 soldiers that we honor today, epitomize the best of America. The Army and Fort Hood are no strangers to pain and tragedy and loss. As many of us know personally and all too well, that's been the case for the last eight years. But we are an Army that has drawn strength from that adversity.
So, as we grieve as an Army family, as we wrap our arms around the families of our fallen comrades, I would say to you all: grieve with us. Don't grieve for us. Those who have fallen did so in the service of their country. They freely answered the call to serve, and they gave their lives for something that they loved and believed in.
I'm extremely proud of the competence, the courage and the commitment of our soldiers, families, civilians and veterans. And I am convinced more than ever that when faced with the question: who will go for us? They will answer to a person: Here am I. Send me.
Thank you very much. And God bless the families of the fallen and the men and women of our Armed Forces.
(Soundbite of applause)
Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.
(Soundbite of cheers and applause)
President BARACK OBAMA: To the Fort Hood community, to Admiral Mullen, General Casey, General Cone, Secretary McHugh, Secretary Gates, most importantly, to family, friends and members of our Armed Forces.
We come together filled with sorrow for the 13 Americans that we have lost. With gratitude for the lives that they led and with the determination to honor them through the work we carry on.
This is a time of war, and these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle. They were killed here on American soil, in the heart of this great state, in the heart of this great American community. This is the fact that makes the tragedy even more painful, even more incomprehensible.
For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void thats been left. We knew these men and women as soldiers and caregivers. You knew them as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers.
But here is what you must also know: your loved ones endure through the life of our nation. Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched. Their lifes work is our security and the freedom that we all too often take for granted. Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town, every dawn that a flag is unfurled, every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that is their legacy. Neither this country nor the values upon which we were founded could exist without men and women like these 13 Americans. And that is why we must pay tribute to their stories.
Chief Warrant Officer Michael Cahill had served in the National Guard and worked as a physicians assistant for decades. A husband and father of three, he was so committed to his patients that on the day he died, he was back at work just weeks after having had a heart attack.
Major Libardo Eduardo Caraveo spoke little English when he came to America as a teenager, but he put himself through college, earned a PhD and was helping combat units cope with the stress of deployment. Hes survived by his wife, sons and stepdaughters.
Staff Sergeant Justin DeCrow joined the Army right after high school, married his high school sweetheart, and had served as a light wheeled mechanic and satellite communications operator. He was known as an optimist, a mentor and a loving husband and father.
After retiring from the Army as a major, John Gaffaney cared for societys most vulnerable during two decades as a psychiatric nurse. He spent three years trying to return to active duty in this time of war, and he was preparing to deploy to Iraq as a captain. He leaves behind a wife and son.
Specialist Frederick Greene was a Tennessean who wanted to join the Army for a long time, and did so in 2008 with the support of his family. As a combat engineer, he was a natural leader, and he is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Specialist Jason Hunt was also recently married, with three children to care for. He joined the Army after high school. He did a tour in Iraq, and it was there that he reenlisted for six more years on his 21st birthday so that he could continue to serve.
Staff Sergeant Amy Krueger was an athlete in high school, joined the Army shortly after 9/11, and had since returned home to speak to students about her experience. When her mother told her she couldnt take on Osama bin Laden by herself, Amy replied: watch me.
Private First Class Aaron Nemelka was an Eagle Scout who just recently signed up to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the service defuse bombs so that he could help save lives. He was proudly carrying on a tradition of military service that runs deep within his family.
Private First Class Michael Pearson loved his family and loved his music, and his goal was to be a music teacher. He excelled at playing the guitar and could create songs on the spot and show others how to play. He joined the military a year ago and was preparing for his first deployment.
Captain Russell Seager worked as a nurse of the V.A., helping veterans with post-traumatic stress. He had extraordinary respect for the military and signed up to serve so that he could help soldiers cope with the stress of combat and return to civilian life. He leaves behind a wife and son.
Private Francheska Velez, daughter of a father from Colombia and a Puerto Rican mother, had recently served in Korea and in Iraq and was pursuing a career in the Army. When she was killed, she was pregnant with her first child, and was excited about becoming a mother.
Lieutenant Colonel Juanita Warman was the daughter and granddaughter of Army veterans. She was single mom who put herself through college and graduate school and served as a nurse practitioner while raising her two daughters. She also left behind a loving husband.
Private First Class Kham Xiong came to America from Thailand as a small child. He was a husband and a father who followed his brother into the military because his family had a strong history of service. He was preparing for his first deployment to Afghanistan.
These men and women came from all parts of the country. Some had long careers in the military. Some had signed up to serve in the shadow of 9/11. Some had known intense combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and some cared for those who didnt. Their lives speak to the strength, the dignity, the decency of those who serve, and thats how they will be remembered.
For that same spirit is embodied in the community here at Fort Hood, and in the many wounded who are still recovering. As was already mentioned in those terrible minutes during the attack, soldiers made makeshift tourniquets out of their clothes. They braved gunfire to reach the wounded and ferried them back to safety in the backs of cars and a pick-up truck.
One young soldier, Amber Bahr, was so intent of helping others, she did not realize for some time that she herself had been shot in the back. Two police officers, Mark Todd and Kim Munley, saved countless lives by risking their own. One medic, Francisco de la Serna, treated both Officer Munley and the gunman who shot her.
It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice in this world and the next.
These are trying times for our country. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the same extremists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans continue to endanger America, our allies and innocent Afghans and Pakistanis. In Iraq, were working to bring a war to a successful end, as there are still those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much for.
As we face these challenges, the stories of those at Fort Hood reaffirm the core values that we are fighting for and the strength that we must draw upon. Theirs are the tales of American men and women answering an extraordinary call, the call to serve their comrades, their communities and their country. In an age of selfishness, they embody responsibility. In an era of division, they call upon us to come together. In a time of cynicism, they remind us of who we are as Americans.
We are a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it. We saw that valor and those who brave bullets here at Fort Hood, just as surely as we see it in those who signed up knowing they would serve in harms way.
We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes.
We're a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln's words, and always pray to be on the side of God.
We're a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal. We live that truth within our military, and see it in the varied backgrounds of those we lay to rest today. We defend that truth at home and abroad, and we know that Americans will always be found on the side of liberty and equality. That's who we are as a people.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day. It's a chance to pause and to pay tribute, for students to learn the struggles that preceded them, for families to honor the service of parents and grandparents, for citizens to reflect upon the sacrifices that have been made in pursuit of a more perfect union.
For history is filled with heroes, you may remember the stories of a grandfather who marched across Europe; an uncle who fought in Vietnam; a sister who served in the Gulf. But as we honor the many generations who have served, all of us, every single American, must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who've come before. We need not look to the past for greatness because it is before our very eyes.
This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marine and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in the time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known. They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places. They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains. They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war. They are men and women; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and all stations; all Americans, serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life.
In today's wars, there's not always a simple ceremony that signals our troops' success, no surrender papers to be signed, or capital to be claimed. But the measure of the impact of these young men and women is no less great. In a world of threats that know no borders, their legacy will be marked in the safety of our cities and towns, and the security and opportunity that's extended abroad. It will serve as testimony to the character of those who served, and the example that all of you in uniform set for America and for the world.
Here at Fort Hood, we pay tribute to 13 men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war even in the comfort of home. Later today, at Fort Lewis, one community will gather to remember so many in one Stryker Brigade who have fallen in Afghanistan.
Long after they are laid to rest - when the fighting has finished, and our nation has endured; when today's servicemen and women are veterans and their children have grown, it will be said that this generation believed under the most trying of tests, believed in perseverance, not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.
So we say goodbye to those who now belong to eternity. We press ahead in pursuit of the peace that guided their service. May God bless the memory of those that we have lost. And may God bless the United States of America.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: The president of the United States, remembering 13 men and women killed last week at Fort Hood, Texas. This is a memorial service being held at the fort today.
You're listening to a special coverage from NPR News.
(Soundbite of song, "Amazing Grace")
Master Sergeant NATASHA HARTLEY (U.S. Army): (Singing) Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now Im found, was blind, but now I see. T'was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed. When we've been there 10 thousand years bright shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we've first begun.
(Soundbite of applause)
CONAN: That was Master Sergeant Natasha Hartley with the 1st Cavalry Division Band.
Col. LEMBKE: Please be seated. A reading from the 40th chapter of Isaiah. Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the Earth. He does not faint or grow weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might, He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted, but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint. Here ends the reading.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? These words from Isaiah call our spirits to attention and focus us in our grief on the importance of getting wisdom and listening. We often taught that in the midst of great pain that one should focus on a central point or a theme. In our time of intense sorrow and emotion, even now great learning and growth can occur, so we do not run away from the pain, but rather we turn to face these difficult times, not alone, but gathered together with others as we do now.
We gather in this place as an Army family, as a Central Texas community and as an entire nation to grieve. Our grief is deeply personal. We do not experience it as an abstract, construct or a philosophical category
CONAN: And were having some technical difficulties with the feed from Fort Hood in Texas. Were listening to the senior chaplain at Fort Hood. Thats Chaplain Michael Lembke. Hes a colonel delivering the benediction of the ceremony. The ceremony got started somewhat late. And the feed may have been only booked for a certain amount of time. But any case, were going to try to get it back for you.
Weve been listening earlier to, well, the performance of Amazing Grace preceded by remarks by the president of the United States and the chief of staff of the United States Army, General George Casey, and then earlier, the commanding general at Fort Hood, Lieutenant General Robert Cone, speaking about the 13 men and women who were murdered there last week in an attack on a readiness center as they were doing the mundane things that soldiers need to do to prepare for going overseas. Anyway, lets get back to the ceremony.
Col. LEMBKE: and we are sustained by the physical presence of so many in this place and throughout our nation. We can experience this as a moment of unity born out of the strength of a diverse national fabric, strong, ethnic, religious and regional threads that weave together to encourage deep reflection and thoughtful response.
These are the seeds that grow into the fruit of divine, inspired wisdom. These words from the Scripture also encourage us to listen, to have the mature realization that while our own personal grief and feelings are very, very important, we must also consider the grief and feelings of others.
Let us pray for the ability to put aside anger and the self-righteous indignation that often arises when great, tragic, unwarranted violence has occurred. We must commit ourselves to get out and get up and, in our prayers and in our actions, to listen to others.
We can take this time of tragic loss as an opportunity to listen and pray and be sustained by the very presence of God and our local and national family. As the text says, we can be borne up as on wings of an eagle, and when we are carried this way, our perspective is broader, our view longer, and our hope deeper.
I pray that God will give us that strength and determination to gain wisdom through listening, prayer and unified action, that God will also grant us the trust necessary to support one another, so that we might both grieve and grow. Amen.
Unidentified Man #1: Please rise for the benediction, and remain standing for the roll call, the rendering of honors to the fallen with three rifle volleys and the playing of Taps.
Col. LEMBKE: Let us pray.
Lord God almighty, bless and keep us. Comfort those who mourn. Sustain those who are weary. Encourage those who are in despair. May the strong sense of community that we now feel grow within us a confidence to meet the demands and challenges of these difficult days, and may we all be renewed in mind, body and spirit. Grant this, Lord, unto us all. Amen.
Unidentified Man #1: The roll call is an Army tradition. Sergeants major routinely call the units roll after battle to account for all soldiers under the command.
Command Sergeant Major DONALD FELT (Fort Hood): Chief Warrant Officer III Vaughn(ph).
Chief Warrant Officer III VAUGHN (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Chief Warrant Officer 2, retired, Cahill.
Captain WILLIAMS (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Major Caraveo.
Sergeant First Class Long(ph).
Sergeant First Class LONG (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Staff Sergeant DeCrow.
Staff Sergeant Henson(ph).
Staff Sergeant HENSON (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Captain Gaffaney.
Specialist TAYLOR (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Specialist Greene.
Specialist HERD (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Specialist Hunt.
Sergeant HINE (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Staff Sergeant Krueger.
Private CANDELARIA (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Private First Class Nemelka.
Private HARTMAN (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Private First Class Pearson.
Staff Sergeant Doram(ph).
Staff Sergeant DORAM (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Captain Seager.
Specialist BARRELL (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Private Velez.
Specialist COVERDELL (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Lieutenant Colonel Warman.
Specialist EDWARDS (U.S. Army): Here, sergeant major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: PFC Xiong.
Unidentified Man#12: (Unintelligible)
Brace. Aim. Fire.
(Soundbite of gunshots)
Unidentified Man #2: Brace. Aim. Fire.
(Soundbite of gunshots)
Unidentified Man #2: Brace. Aim. Fire.
(Soundbite of gunshots)
Unidentified Man #2: (Unintelligible)
(Soundbite of music, Taps)
Unidentified Man #2: (Unintelligible)
Unidentified Man #1: Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated.
The official party, family members and invited guests will now render final honors. Please feel free to leave quietly and respectfully or remain to pay final honors.
CONAN: And with that, the president of the United States takes a moment to pause in front of each of the small wooden boxes that had been erected on the front of the stage that held the lectern from which he spoke just a moment ago.
The wooden boxes each have two tiers. On the lower tier, a portrait of one of the 13 men and women who were killed last week; on the upper tier, their 10 combat boots, a rifle, a helmet and their ID tag. President Obama pausing just for a moment in front of each, the first lady Michelle Obama just to his left.
Earlier in that emotional ending to this ceremony at Fort Hood, Texas, weve heard the Command Sergeant Major Donald Felt speaking the final roll call, a formation of soldiers. He asked their names. We heard one solider say, here, sergeant major, and the next, of course, one of those who is dead and could not answer.
Then we heard the reports of seven rifles fired three times. And perhaps, the most moving song, the most moving tune in the American military lexicon, and that is Taps.