Pvt. Brian Schroeder
27th Public Affairs Detachment
One year after a fatal helicopter crash on post, Fort Drum officials dedicated a memorial to honor the 11 Soldiers who lost their lives.
Family members and comrades of the fallen Soldiers gathered Thursday to unveil the memorial dedicated to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“These men were guardians of our freedom and the American way of life,” said Col. James L. Creighton, 10th Mountain Division chief of staff (rear). “Your presence here today pays tribute to them and their contribution and their sacrifice to ensure the safety and protection of all Americans. We will never forget these fine Soldiers and will always honor their memory.”
Soldiers from C Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment; B Company, 2nd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment were training for a deployment mission in support of the global war on terrorism when their UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter when down.
“These Soldiers were all preparing for war,” said Col. Mark A. Milley, 2nd Brigade commander. “They were training to be ready to answer that call, which most of them had already received: To deploy to foreign lands, fight against people they have never seen in order to protect the freedoms of people they will never meet.”
The two survivors of the crash, former Specs. Edwin Mejia and Dmitri Petrov of C Company, 4-31 Infantry, helped unveil the memorial. Both men suffered permanent injuries.
Petrov has returned to his home in Brooklyn after leaving the Army. He said it has been a struggle rehabilitating his legs to walk again. He said he does not remember much from the crash, but he remembers waking up in a hospital room weeks later.
“Sometimes I’m glad I don’t remember what happened,” Petrov said. “We just did our job. We’ve flown the bird hundreds of times. It was just a bad day.”
Patricia Moran, mother of crash victim Sgt. Joshua M. Harapko, attended the memorial dedication. She said reflecting on the 23 years of joy her son brought to her life keeps her going every day.
“Heroes don’t expect it to be their moment of glory, it just happens,” Moran said. “Knowing he is remembered would make Josh extremely happy.”
The memorial design and location was carefully plotted out at the C Company, 4-31 Infantry barracks, the unit that suffered the greatest loss.
Michael Gunter, Eagle Scout with Fort Drum Boy Scout Troop 26, worked with Soldiers from 4-31 Infantry in constructing the memorial as part of his Eagle Scout leadership service project.
“These Soldiers died for my freedom,” Gunter said. “I wanted to help any way I could.”
The concrete pad the memorial rests on is made in the silhouette of a Blackhawk helicopter.
“The place of the Blackhawk helicopter here in the center of an infantry battalion reminds us of the special bond and relationship infantry has with their aviation brothers and how that bond has now been forged in common blood,” Milley said.
Gunter and 4-31 Infantry Soldiers planted 11 young flowering pear trees around the memorial to represent each of the fallen troops. Two granite benches were placed next to the monument to represent the two gravely injured Soldiers who survived the crash.
“The benches are here for future visitors to sit on and remember the Soldiers who lost their lives,” Milley said. “It is also a place to sit and reflect the sacrifice and ongoing sacrifice that all Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines continue to make in the service of our country.”
A bronze plaque honoring those who died was placed upon a granite pedestal at the front of the monument.
The plaque lists the names of the 11 Soldiers who gave their lives: Staff Sgt. Brian L. Pavlich, Sgt. John L. Eichenlaub, Sgt. Joshua M. Harapko, Spec. Shawn A. Mayerscik, Pfc. Andrew D. Stevens, Pfc. Stryder O. Stoutenburg and Pfc. Tommy C. Young, all of C Company, 4-31 Infantry; Capt. Christopher E. Britton, HHC, 1-10 Aviation; and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kenneth L. Miller, Spec. Lucas V. Tripp and Spec. Barry M. Stephens, B Company, 2-10 Aviation.
The inscription on the plaque reads: “In memory of our fallen infantry and aviation comrades. On March 11, 2003, these Soldiers gave their lives in a helicopter accident while training to defend our nation.”
The cause of the accident is still unknown. A full report of the accident is due out in June.
“This memorial now stands in permanent reminder of their sacrifice in the defense of freedom,” Milley said. “These young brave men truly gave their last full measure of devotion to ensure your freedom and my freedom will last forever.”