Cover Story

Fallen soldiers in a forgotten war

As Americans prepare to honor the dead from wars past, wars present exact an ongoing toll in men and women

Issue: "Memorial Day 2005," May 28, 2005

Afghanistan is not lush or balmy or scenic, but Capt. Daniel Eggers loved it. The Citadel grad and Green Beret, fluent in Arabic, grew out his beard, wrapped his head like a native, and operated secretly for weeks on end among rugged peaks and deep gorges concealing poppy fields and terrorists. But two days after Memorial Day 2004, near Kandahar, the vehicle he was riding in struck an improvised explosive device, killing Capt. Eggers, 28, and three other soldiers.

The Army has not forgotten Daniel Eggers: In March 2005, the service renamed the military compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, "Camp Eggers" in honor of the captain's brave service.

But in some ways, America seems to have forgotten Afghanistan. With suicide bombers bent on bloodshed in Iraq, ongoing U.S. efforts two countries to the east seem relegated to backburner status in the national conscience. This though at least 79 U.S. military personnel have died there since Jan. 1, 2004-27 so far in 2005 alone.

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Listening to the news, "you don't hear hardly anything about Afghanistan," said Keith Koele, who on March 16 lost his son, Army Staff Sgt. Shane Koele, 25, to injuries sustained when the soldier's Humvee struck a landmine the day before.

WORLD spoke with the Koeles and two other families who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan this year. All lamented not only their personal losses, but also their sense that a kind of national amnesia has set in: Many Americans, and the media in particular, seem to have forgotten the good works-building schools and roads, training Afghan troops, and, in the words of Staff Sgt. Koele's wife Cheryl, "giving Afghans a chance at freedom" - for which ordinary families are sacrificing their sons and daughters.

Sgt. Major Anthony Hallenbeck has not forgotten Shane Koele. The moment the freshly minted Private First Class arrived at the 300th Military Police Company at Fort Riley, Kan., Mr. Hallenbeck saw someone special.

It was spring 2000. "I remember seeing him for the first time when he arrived with the other new soldiers that day," Sgt Major Hallenbeck told mourners at his friend's memorial service in March. "Something about the way he presented himself told me, this soldier had great potential. I immediately told the First Sergeant, 'I want Koele.' And it was that day that our paths started together."

It was a path that revealed SSgt. Koele as a man who never settled for second best-or second place-and who took seriously his responsibilities as husband and father. Sgt Major Hallenbeck came to rely on his friend's gift for leadership as the pair rolled through the dusty villages of Iraq during America's initial push into Baghdad in April 2003.

SSgt Koele's mission then was to rumble miles into the desert in front of advancing U.S. troops, securing the route ahead. Along the way, some Iraqis greeted his Humvee with smiles and fresh water, others with mortar rounds and rockets.

Back home, his wife tried not worry. In letters from the front lines, "Shane always told me he was 10 feet tall and bulletproof," Mrs. Koele said.

He stands at least that tall in the memory of the people of Hartley, Iowa, where he grew up wowing the hometown crowd as a letterman in football, basketball, and track. When Sgt. Koele died just a week after arriving in Afghanistan with the 212th Military Police Company, the heartland town of 1,700 closed Main Street to honor him. Uniformed policemen, firemen, soldiers, along with hundreds of ordinary citizens, on March 25 lined both sides of the street and waved American flags as his funeral procession crept by. At the end of Main, the procession passed under a giant American flag suspended between two firetruck ladders, fully extended for the purpose.

Keith Koele, of Fonda, Iowa, is proud of his son's sacrifice, as is Mrs. Koele, Shane's wife of 18 months. But she wonders now what she will tell their daughter Kylie, who was only three months old when her daddy died.

"I've never seen a more proud dad," Mrs. Koele said. "He would parade Kylie around everywhere, showing her off. She'll grow up knowing who he was, how he sacrificed his life for her and for us. But words cannot replace him. It's just hard knowing she's . . . not going to be able to come home and say, 'Daddy, I love you,' and give him a hug. That's going to be tough."

The Stout family also faces a tough road, and Jeremiah Stout is on a mission: to make his sister Chrystal proud. On April 6, Spc. Chrystal Stout, 23, was among 15 U.S. service members and three government contractors killed when their CH-47 helicopter crashed near Ghazni, Afghanistan.


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