FORT BLISS, Texas, April 11 (UPI) -- An Army officer called nine fallen soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company "our loved ones, our heroes" in a final salute Friday to the eight men and one woman killed in an ambush March 23 near near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.
Also on the minds of the more than 1,000 soldiers, family members, and civilians attending the 50-minute memorial were the five 507th soldiers still held as prisoners of war. A sixth soldier, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, was also taken prisoner in the ambush but she was rescued in a daring raid April 1.
Col. Robert H. Woods Jr., commander of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, said there was no more appropriate way than a salute to honor the soldiers "who died beside each other" on a battlefield in a foreign country.
"We salute those we respect and today I believe it is appropriate for us to salute our loved ones, our heroes," he said. "Today we should salute them for their leadership in a battlefield under the worst of conditions. We should salute them for their sense of duty in a cause that was necessary and difficult. We should salute them for the respect that they had for each other, on and off the battlefield. We should salute them for their selfless service, which resulted in the ultimate sacrifice."
Woods spoke from a stage in the Deployment Center at the West Texas Army post where the unit departed for the Persian Gulf earlier this year. A huge American flag was draped down the wall in back of the podium.
A soldier's memorial with a helmet, rifle, dog tags, picture, and Purple Heart was posted in front of the stage for each of the soldiers. A sergeant read personal notes about each soldier during the program.
At the end of the ceremony, a first sergeant called roll for the fallen soldiers and listened for a response that never came. Taps preceded a closing rendition of "Amazing Grace," played by a group of marching bagpipers.
The 507th Maintenance Company, one of only three such units in the Army, supported the Patriot missile batteries that were sent to the war zone from Fort Bliss, the Army's training primary center for air defense weaponry.
In addition to the nine killed and six taken prisoner in the ambush near Nasiriyah, four soldiers were wounded.
The 507th soldiers killed were: Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, El Paso; Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, Pecos, Texas; Spc. Jamaal R. Addison, Roswell, Ga.; Pfc. Howard Johnson II, Mobile, Ala.; Spc. James Kiehl, Comfort, Texas; Pvt. Brandon Sloan, Bedford Heights, Ohio; Pfc. Lori Piestewa, Tuba City, Ariz.; Sgt. Donal Walters, Salem, Ore.; and Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, Cleveland, Ohio.
The 507th POWS are Spc. Shoshana Johnson, El Paso; Spc. Edgar Hernandez, Alton, Texas; Spc. Joseph Hudson, Alamogordo, N.M.; Sgt. James Riley, Pennsauken, N.J.; and Pfc. Patrick Miller, of Valley Center, Kan.