Last year, the Utah Legislature was able to skip honoring fallen soldiers. None had died. That made it more emotional Friday when it honored 19 this year — including one from World War II whose body was finally found last August.
In most years, a few family members of the fallen gather in front of the Senate and House chambers to hear a citation read. This year, so many family members attended that they snaked throughout the chambers to find enough room.
“We’ve gone from none to 19 in a year,” an emotional Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, told the House. “There are few moments in life when gratitude ceases to be a virtuous gesture and instead becomes a solemn duty and a sacred honor.”
He added, “Freedom is a precious gift bestowed upon us at an enormous cost. Utah’s 19 — our 19 now — are among the thousands who have unselfishly sacrificed their own liberty to protect ours.”
He told the families, “Today they are not only your sons. Today, they are our sons, too. You have endured unthinkable grief. May God grant you his lasting peace, and may you know of our love and respect for you and your sons.”
“This is the job that I dread all year. But I won’t let anyone else take it over for me,” Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, told the Senate. He told the families that although their loved ones are “gone temporarily, they are not forgotten.”
Among them was 2nd Lt. Vernal J. Bird killed in New Guinea in 1944, but whose body was discovered last August.
Wilson said, “It’s been a long time for a family. It’s an honor to have them here today.”
Others who died or were killed while serving during the past year included: Sgt. Shawn M. Nelson; Staff Sgt. Michael L. Valdes; Lt. Joshua R. Wall; Spc. David M. Gannon; Pfc. Cody J. Towse; Spc. Jeremy T. Olsen; Staff Sgt. Christian L. Larsen; 1st Sgt. Tracy L. Stapley; and Spc. Tommy Kidman.
Also, Spc. Jal W. Oomrigar; Staff Sgt. Terry T. Groulx; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Richard C. Isaksen; Tech Sgt. Gregory M. Littlefield; Sgt. Brett Kelly Nickell; Spc. Curtis A. Smith; Staff Sgt. Zackary S. Barton; Sgt. Matthew C. Larson; and Sgt. Landon L. Henscheid.
The legislative citation to them said, “May the examples of dedicated service of these brave men and women serve as examples to all of the commitment of Americans in defending liberty at home and abroad.”