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Ceremony to honor Utah's fallen warriors to be held on Veterans Day

Published: Sunday, Nov. 11 2012 10:44 p.m. MST

From left, Roberta Pitt, Shannon Kramer and Suzanne Wagstaff hold pictures of their sons who died in the line of duty.

Joe Deluca, Joe Deluca, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Their hearts still ache every day for the loss of their sons in combat. Their lives will never be the same; these families call it the new normal.

Six Utah families, known as the Utah 6, understand the meaning of sacrifice and want to make sure those who died in combat are never forgotten. These families and their fallen heroes will be honored in a ceremony on Veterans Day at the capitol. They are the inspiration for an American Fallen Warrior Memorial to be built in Kansas. These families shed tears of pride and sorrow when they talked about their sons who died in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Roberta Pitt's son was Army Pfc. Jordan Byrd. He was a medic. Less than a month after leaving Utah, the 19-year-old Byrd came back home, though not the way his family would have wanted. Byrd was shot and killed in Afghanistan Oct. 13, 2010, while helping one of his fellow soldiers who was wounded in combat. His deployment had been delayed so he could be with his wife for the birth of their son.

Shannon Kramer understands how Pitt feels. Her son, Army Sgt. Aaron Kramer, was killed in Afghanistan Sept. 16, 2010.

Suzanne Wagstaff said her son, Chief Warrant Officer Matthew G. Wagstaff, died doing what he loved. "He died supporting our country, and he died hoping to keep our borders safe," she said.

The 34-year-old Orem man died Sept. 21, 2010, when his Blackhawk crashed in southern Afghanistan as he was taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Most people will never understand the swirl of emotions these parents feel. "We are so bonded," said Kim Olsen, who lost her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Nigel Kenton Olsen.

Olsen, 21, died in Helmond Province, Afghanistan, March 4, 2010, after stepping on an improvised explosive device. He was 12 years old when 9/11 happened.

"I think it just cemented his desire and dream to serve in the military and serve his country in the best capacity he could," his mother said.

All Gold Star families understand the emotional pain felt after losing a loved one in combat.

"There really aren't any words needed between Gold Star parents and children and families, because we know the pain that each of us has gone through," Olsen said.

Rosa Halliday knows the pain she is talking about. Three days before Olsen was killed, her 19-year-old son, Marine Lance Cpl. Carlos A. Aragon, was killed in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He was born in Mexico and died for America, she said.

Jody Wood lost her son, Sgt. 1st Class Ronald T. Wood. He was killed in Iraq July 16, 2005. He was in a convoy struck by a roadside bomb in Kirkuk.

"I think the military offered him a chance to do all the things he felt were important in his life," Jody Wood said.

They've bonded over their boys, who they believe are a band of brothers now in heaven, even though they've never met each other's sons. They support each other and other Gold Star families.

"I couldn't have made it through the last couple of years without these marvelous people," Jody Wood said.

These families and their sons are the inspiration for a 20-acre, $30 million project planned in Kansas, to be funded with donations. The memorial is to remember the fallen and to make sure they are never forgotten.

"It's going to represent, I think, the true spirit of America," said Brad Halliday, Aragon's stepfather.

"It's more than just honoring our fallen, it's also educating our future generations," added Suzanne Wagstaff.

The families stress that there are more than 100 Gold Star families in Utah and thousands across the country. Their sons and daughters have made the same ultimate sacrifice. They too will be honored in the fallen warrior memorial. More information on the memorial can be found at www.afwmf.org.

They hope many Americans will support the monument and always remember why their sons gave their lives. The American Fallen Warrior Memorial Foundation will honor fallen warriors today at 3 p.m. in the Capitol rotunda.

"He died for those rights and freedoms," Suzanne Wagstaff said, "and I don't want his death to be in vain."

Email: jboal@ksl.com

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