While Americans celebrate on this, the country’s 237th Independence Day, a group of former enlisted men and military family members are in Austin to perform a battlefield cross ceremony.
For Iron Soldiers, a military remembrance group with headquarters in Childress, the ceremony is a way to remember those men and woman who will not celebrate the Fourth of July — casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Soldiers like veteran Army Sgt. Robert Billings, killed by an improvised explosive device when his unit, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, was attacked on Oct. 16, 2010, in the southern Kandahar province of Afghanistan.
His Mother, Hope Billings of Amarillo, is among the supporters of Iron Soldiers in Austin today.
“It keeps their memories alive, and that’s why I am with them. They do. Not only for the guys and the girls, but they are doing it for the families too,” said Hope of the organization. “They make sure no one forgets. And that’s what I love about it.”
Hope was also in Henrietta Monday morning when the Iron Soldiers performed the same ceremony at the Clay County War Memorial on the courthouse lawn. They did the same in several cities and communities along their rout to Austin.
One by one, members of the Iron Soldiers placed items at the foot of the memorial. First, an M4 rifle, muzzle down, is placed behind a pair of combat boots. Another member carries a helmet and places it on the rifle’s stock. A soldier’s ID tags are draped across the rifle and a rose placed at the base of the temporary monument.
A plaque, engraved with, “Honoring families of fallen heroes,” is placed next to the rifle.
“Every family, they honor. Not just the child that passed, but they honor the families,” said Hope Billings about Iron Soldiers. “They let them know that they are just as important as their kids. And I am honored to be with them this trip.”
A memorial run through town follows the ceremony. Runners carry two batons. Enclosed in the first baton is a list of all Texas killed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second holds a list of volunteer fire fighters killed in the West, fertilizer plant explosion.
Iron Soldiers will travel to West Friday, July 5.
Archie Sharp of Childress founded iron Soldiers in 2007. Sharp, a former National Guardsmen, started Iron Soldiers following the death of a friend in the U.S. Army who was on leave from Afghanistan.
“It made me realize that some of the soldiers are laid to rest and after years go by, they are forgotten. Our job is to make sure they are not forgotten,” said Sharp. “The solider is laid to rest, and his pain is laid to rest, but the family still lives and the family still hurts.”
On Tuesday, the Iron Soldiers were in Burleson. The Body of Army Spc. William Moody, 30, of the Fourth Infantry Division, was returned to his hometown the following day. Moody was in his third deployment to Afghanistan when, on June 18, he was killed in the Bagram province.
“Our job is to make sure that we are there to help them,” said Sharp. “Their biggest thing is that they don’t want their soldier forgotten, and that is our job.”
The Iron Soldiers will return to Burleson on Saturday, July 6 to attend the funeral.
Iron Soldiers remembers those lost in all conflicts, said Sharp, but pays special attention to the families of the most recent conflicts in the Middle East.
“We will not forget veterans from those eras, but this is the new era of Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn,” said Sharp.