BREWER, Maine — Memorial images and dog tags of two Bravo Company soldiers that have hung on the walls of an Iraq military base since the men’s deaths five years ago — reminding others of their service and their ultimate sacrifice — made their way home this week.
The memorials were unpacked and placed on display in the Fallen Heroes conference room at the Brewer Armory, which displays some of the history of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry — the only infantry unit in the state.
Staff Sgt. Dale James Kelly Jr., 48, of Richmond and Staff Sgt. David Michael Veverka, 25, a University of Maine senior, were killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb on May 6, 2006, while serving with the Brewer unit.
Maj. Darryl Lyon, who held the rank of captain and was commander of the Brewer unit in 2006, knew nothing of the memorial tributes to his fallen soldiers and saw the pictures for the first time on Thursday afternoon.
He was quiet when he first walked into the Armory’s conference room, which is tucked into the back corner of the building.
“This is at Fort Dix,” he said, touching a photo of Veverka in a Humvee’s gunnery turret.
The second picture, which listed Kelly’s name, also was a picture of Veverka, a mistake on the military’s part but no less valuable to Lyon. Kelly’s memorial dog tags dangled on one corner and his desert camouflage hat embroidered with his nickname, “Doc” Kelly, hung on the other.
“Sometimes the baseball card with the mistake is more valuable,” Lyon said.
“We do have pictures” of Kelly that can be framed for the memorial room, said Staff Sgt. Robert Clifford, who entered the room as Lyon was recalling where he was on the day the truck carrying Kelly, Veverka and gunner Spc. Christopher Fraser, then 19, of Windsor was hit as it approached a bridge in Ash Shamiajah.
Veverka was mortally wounded in the blast but somehow managed to unbuckle himself, get to Fraser, unsnap him from his post and pull him inside the truck to safety.
Saving the life of his brother-in-arms “was the last thing he could do as a soldier,” Lyon said with obvious pride in his voice.
Kelly, who was the unit’s medic, taught his fellow soldiers — including Fraser — how to give themselves medicine or blood intravenously and is credited with helping Fraser treat himself after the explosion.
“Fraser was hit. He was ripped across the legs pretty severely and was losing a lot of blood,” Lyon said. “Fraser hit himself with an IV — taught to him by Kelly — essentially saving his own life.”
Kelly was driving and was killed instantly when the bomb ripped though their vehicle but his grip on the steering wheel kept the truck from plunging off the bridge into the ravine below.
“There was a lot of heroics going on,” Lyon said.
Col. Ronald Kirklan, commander of the 4th Sustainment Brigade based at the Contingency Operating Base Adder in southern Iraq near Nasiriyah, sent the items back home. He enclosed a letter saying that as the closing months of Operation New Dawn approach, it was an honor to collect and send the “honored and brave soldier memorials” back to their respective units.
“These servicemen and women have not been forgotten and they have served as an inspiration to soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines across the Iraq area of operations,” the letter states. “Please remind their families, friends and fellow soldiers that the sacrifice of their loved ones was not in vain and even now they inspire others to valor, honor, patriotism, service to their nation and religious beliefs.”
Veverka, a wildlife ecology major at UMaine, was inducted posthumously into the Order of St. Maurice and given a Bronze Star for valor and a State Gold Star and State Silver Star, both honorable service medals.
Kelly was an employee at Bath Iron Works, where he had worked for 14 years, and is survived by his wife and three grown children. He was buried with full military honors at Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
Veverka was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in May 2006. That same month, during UMaine’s graduation ceremony, the university awarded Veverka a posthumous Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife ecology.
The deaths of Veverka and Kelly rank among the worst war casualities for any Maine Guard unit in Iraq since a suicide bomber in Mosul set off a blast in December 2004 that killed two members of the 133rd Engineer Battalion and injured 13 others.