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At Fort Hood yesterday, President Obama and thousands of mourners paid tribute to the 13 men and women who lost their lives there. Twelve soldiers and one civilian were gunned down last Thursday, allegedly by Army Major Nidal Hasan. The service began more than half an hour late because the president and first lady lingered with the walking wounded just before the ceremony began.
NPRs Wade Goodwyn was there and has this report.
WADE GOODWYN: The families of the 13 men and women murdered on Thursday were escorted down the steps of III Corps Headquarters, one by one, each family with its own military escort. Some stopped to take pictures of the memorial photograph on display honoring their loved one. As the ceremony got underway, Army Chief of Staff General George Casey Jr. spoke, not to the grieving families or the defiant soldiers gathered 15,000 strong on the lawn, he spoke to the nation.
General GEORGE CASEY JR. (Army Chief of Staff): Grieve with us, dont 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.
President BARACK OBAMA: 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, diffuse bombs, so that he could help save lives.
GOODWYN: President Obama kept the focus on the military service to the country and the men and women who gave their lives last Thursday.
Pres. OBAMA: 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.
GOODWYN: Though the president did not mention Major Nidal Hasan by name, he nevertheless condemned his alleged motives.
Pres. OBAMA: 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.
GOODWYN: The emotional center point of the ceremony was the roll-call. It is a military tradition after a heated battle, for the sergeant major to call the roll and so discover who has fallen and who is still here left to fight.
Command Sergeant Major DONALD FELT (III Corps): Chief Warrant Officer 3 Vaughn.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 VAUGHN: Here, Sergeant Major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Chief Warrant Officer 2, retired, Cahill.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Captain Williams.
Captain WILLIAMS: Here, Sergeant Major.
Command Sgt. Maj. FELT: Major Caraveo.
(Soundbite of bugle)
GOODWYN: As thousands of mourners walked away under a brilliant Texas sky, their mood did not match the weather. Janet Jacksons fiance is in Iraq, and she could imagine all too easily that it might be his name that goes unanswered in some future roll-call.
Ms. JANET JACKSON: Thats when I broke down. Thats when - my father served military 22 years. Hes retired. And I have a fianc�e who is currently deployed, Al Taji, in Iraq. You know, it could have been either of them.
GOODWYN: In America, military family begets military family. Generation after generation, the burden of service, a heritage probably worn. Their scrapbooks are pockmarked with pictures of young men, handsome and brave, whose children never knew them, whose mothers and fathers barely tolerable pain is forever concealed beneath the cloak of patriotism and devotion to country. Yesterday, in front of III Corps Headquarters, the country paid tribute to 13 more American families who took their unwanted place amongst the nations most honored company.
Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Killeen, Texas.
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