As the glow of a brilliant Texas sun rose over Fort Bliss, the American flag at the center of the sprawling Army base waved at half-staff.
Fort Bliss is the second-largest Army base in the country, but not one of its soldiers had died in combat since Vietnam — until the war in Iraq. Today, the base held a memorial service, including a 21-gun salute and a somber bagpipe procession, for its fallen comrades.
Speaking to a group of about 1,000 mourners, Col. Robert Wood Jr. urged friends and family to remember the happy moments from the lives of the nine slain soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company. And he described their profound contribution.
"When a nation goes to war the saying 'All gave some but some gave all' becomes very real," he said.
Randy Kiehl's son, 22-year-old Army Spc. James Kiehl, was among the nine soldiers who were killed in an ambush near Nasiriyah, Iraq, on March 23. The father said he is turning to his faith for strength.
"We know that James is safe with the arms of the Lord protecting him," Randy Kiehl said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America.
The ceremony was held at the center of the Army field, at a new facility, where the troops deploy and return. Inside, a Purple Heart clings to each of the photos of those killed in action. Their boots and dog tags were displayed as sad symbols of soldiers no longer present.
"Yesterday we all saw the news in Baghdad — the amazing, wonderful success of our soldiers to this point," said Chaplain Col. Fred Hudson, who presided over the ceremony. "Your soldier is a part of that success."
Grief and Uncertainty
From the outside, Fort Bliss is a sprawling base, but a closer look reveals a tightly knit family reaching out to one another during this time of both grief and uncertainty.
"There has been an overwhelming sadness, however, there is still a sense of unknown," said Peggy Brown, a family assistance center officer at Fort Bliss. "The community is coming together to honor and assist the families."
One of the nine soldiers killed from the 507th was Lori Piestewa, the first U.S. woman killed in combat during the war. A member of the Hopi Tribe, Piestewa, 23, was a single mother raising a 4-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter.
On that same day, six members of the 507th were taken prisoner of war — but since a happy turn of events Sunday, all have been freed.
One of those prisoners of war, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, 19, was rescued in a daring by U.S. military operation on April 1. Then on Sunday, Iraqi troops released seven POWs to Marines en route to Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
Clad in an assortment of pajamas and shorts, the soldiers who had been held captive for 22 days clambered out of helicopters to a delighted welcome at an air base in southern Iraq, hours after their release.
Members of the 507th who were freed by Iraqi troops on Sunday were: Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, of Fort Bliss, Texas; Army Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Texas; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, Texas; Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, of Park City, Kan.; and Sgt. James Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J.
Also released were: Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young, Jr., whose Apache helicopter was forced down March 23, and Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, or Orlando, Fla, who was with Young in the helicopter.
Yellow ribbons lined the streets of Fort Bliss, and the neighboring city of El Paso. Jean Offutt, a public affairs officer at Fort Bliss, says the entire community had been praying that, like Lynch, other members of her company would make it back safely. Those prayers were answered Sunday.
"Any tragedy brings the community together and this was a terrible tragedy for all of us. And not only did it bring the Fort Bliss family together but it also involves our entire El Paso community. They've been tremendous in supporting us," Offutt said.
The soldiers who died have already returned to Fort Bliss, and each one has been awarded the Purple Heart.
Today, they were honored, and remembered, as heroes and Americans, who made the ultimate sacrifice, and the chaplain had words of healing.
"In the eyes of God, your soldier is a prince," Hudson said to the mourners.
Members of the 507th killed were Army Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, of El Paso, Texas.; Army Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, El Paso, Texas; Army Spc. Jamaal R. Addison, 22, Roswell, Ga.; Army Pfc. Howard Johnson II, 21, of Mobile, Ala.; Spc. James Kiehl, 22, of Comfort, Texas; Army Pvt. Brandon Sloan, Bedford Heights, Ohio; Pfc. Lori Piestewa, 22, Tuba City, Ariz.; Army Sgt. Donald Walters, 33, of Salem, Ore.; and Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland.