FORT RILEY — The Army family and biological families united here Wednesday morning to celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
A commemoration ceremony for the 43 soldiers who died during the past year took place as a part of Victory Week. “This is a special place,” Brig. Gen. Donald MacWillie said. “This is Victory Park.”
The names of 43 soldiers were inscribed on bricks and added to the “Victory Park” tableau already featuring their fellow fallen soldiers. There are now 498 bricks.
MacWillie said he didn’t intend on giving a sad presentation since it was not a sad day.
“Today is about the strength of our Army and the strength of our families and the strength of those that have gone before us,” he said.
It’s a strength that Ramon Mora, Sr. said is tested constantly. His 19-year-old son, PFC Romon Mora, Jr., died last year near Baghdad from an IED attack. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman Badge posthumously.
“It’s been difficult,” Mora, Sr. said. “We’ve been going some hard time trying to deal on a day-to-day basis with the loss of Junior.” He described his son, the third of eight children, as an adventurous person, someone who wanted to help people and served as a good inspiration for his siblings.
Mora, Sr. said his son is with him wherever he is, but the base feels like his home. “Every time I come to Fort Riley, I feel that this is where he’s at,” he said.
Stephanie Cintron lost “a brave father and loving husband” in SPC Marcos Cintron. He and five other soldiers died from injuries related to a June 2011 rocket attack at his base in Baghdad.
In addition to his two daughters in Puerto Rico – Adriana, 14, and Lorimar, 12 – Cintron also left behind Stephanie’s three children, who said he treated them like his own.
“He was like a real dad even though he was my stepdad,” said Keyla Fernandez, 10.
Her brother, Jan, 12, echoed that sentiment. “Since he always wanted a son, I think he saw me as his real son,” he said.
“I was really sad, and I started crying when they told me he died,” Keyla said. She is in better spirits nowadays, saying the ceremony was “pretty cool,” but the cannons shots during the 21-gun salute scared her a little.
She traced his brick on a sheet of paper with charcoal, which she said will go on her wall.
Ashley Capielo Perry, 16, said this is her first time at Fort Riley, and she would come back from Orlando with her mother to visit Marcos’s stone again. “It’s really nice to have people recognize him for what he did,” she said.
Stephanie said she knew the Army life was what Marcos wanted for himself. “This was his dream,” she said. “This is what he wanted to do. I’m really proud of him.”
Samantha Cook attended with her children, Hailee, 8, and Michael, 3. Her husband, SPC Michael Cook, Jr., died in the same incident as Cintron.
Cook said it’s hard to believe it’s been a year. She admitted it was rough during the ceremony. She said her husband was “her everything.”
“I haven’t really accepted yet, so actually seeing it and hearing it, I definitely cried a lot,” she said.
Cook noticed that the winds that were prevalent during the ceremony had disappeared. It served as a sign to her that her husband was present.
“I knew he was there,” Cook said. “I could feel that all 43 were here.”