Their men already were members of an elite fraternity: U.S. Army Special Operations, for soldiers who have “eagerly sought and accepted our nation’s most difficult missions against our most dangerous enemies.”
They’re members of their own grim confederacy now, the Gold Star Families, for the parents, children, spouses and siblings of soldiers killed while in service to their country. They gathered Thursday for a somber ceremony at Fort Bragg to honor the seven lives – and deaths – that forever join them together.
In the week of Memorial Day, when Americans honor all their war dead in countless ceremonies and parades, the grief of these families is among the freshest. Each of these seven Green Beret soldiers was killed since the last such gathering, just a year ago, on the plaza outside the Army’s Special Operations Command headquarters building at Fort Bragg.
A white-gloved color guard presented flags. A piper played a verse and chorus of “Amazing Grace.” A curtain was pulled back to reveal a black granite wall with the names of 1,206 Special Operations soldiers who have died in combat since the Korean War. A bell tolled for each of the seven newest names.
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The wall “is not a monument to heroism,” Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tovo, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, told those gathered for the event. “It is a tribute to sacrifice.”
Every fallen soldier had family at the ceremony. An Army spokesman said none of the family members wished to speak with reporters.
Alexandra McClintock’s husband’s name was added to the wall last year, but she attended the service again this year because, she said, “This is a family.”
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew McClintock was killed in southern Afghanistan on Jan. 5, 2016, after his team was trapped in an hours-long firefight. McClintock was shot after helping find a place for an aircraft to land to evacuate his wounded compatriots.
His widow attended the ceremony Thursday with her mother, her father-in-law and her toddler, Declan. After the service, the boy, who was born just two months before his father died, sat on the ground in front of the wall bearing his father’s name and touched the stack of red roses family members had lain before it.
Also now listed on the wall are:
Staff Sgt. Matthew Vail Thompson, 28, who grew up in Minneapolis, Minn., went to college for a theology degree, traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, to help start a non-profit for homeless boys, and enlisted in the Army in 2011. The medical sergeant was on his second deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed by an improvised bomb Aug. 23. He was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group.
Staff Sgt. Adam Samuel Thomas, 31, a medical sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group. Raised in Minnesota, he studied biology and environmental sciences in college and joined the Army in 2008. He was on his third deployment when he was killed by an improvised bomb in Afghanistan Oct. 4.
Maj. Andrew David Byers, 30, who was born in New York, graduated from West Point with a degree in history and was commissioned in 2008. He was killed by small arms fire Nov. 3 while in the Kunduz Province, where he was helping train and assist Afghan fighters.
Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Allen Gloyer, 34, who taught elementary school before he enlisted in the Army in 2004. He had deployed to Africa and was on his third deployment to Afghanistan when he was killed in the combat in the Kunduz Province Nov. 3. Like Byers, he was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group.
Staff Sgt. Kevin Joseph McEnroe, 30, a native of Tucson, Ariz., who had deployed at least five times since joining the Army in 2008. The communications sergeant for the 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, died Nov. 4 as the result of small arms fire in Jafr, Jordan.
Staff Sgt. James Francis Moriarty, 27, who grew up in Houston, Texas, and joined the Army in 2011. He was a weapons sergeant in the 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group when he was killed by small arms fire in Jafr, Jordan, on Nov. 4.
Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Charles Lewellen, 27, from Kirksville, Mo., who joined the Army in 2010 and was a member of the 3rd Battlion, 5th Special Forces Group. He was killed by small arms fire in Jafr, Jordan, Nov. 4.
Lt. Gen. Tovo said each man had kept his solemn promise.
“They protected the nation without fear, without fail, without equal.”