Italy — It has been an emotionally exhausting few days for families of soldiers
in the 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza.
Their sons and husbands
deployed just weeks ago for Afghanistan and already have suffered a tragedy
larger than any in the base’s recent history.
Four of the 18 people who died in a helicopter crash on Wednesday near
Ghazni are believed to be Vicenza-based soldiers. They are officially listed
as missing until positive identifications are made in the United States.
The death toll grew over the weekend after military officials found remains
of two more military personnel at the site where the CH-47 Chinook went
down. As of late Sunday, the Department of Defense had not released the
names and units of any of the victims.
Army officials told the Vicenza community on Friday — through family
support groups and the bases family support center — that next-of-kin had
been notified. No news was good news, group leaders told wives.
But the delay meant tense moments for families on Wednesday night and
all day Thursday. They only knew there had been a crash. Most soldiers in
the 173rd Airborne Brigade had been out of contact with their families since
“That’s what breaks our hearts, not knowing,” said Rita Bonamego, who
heads Vicenza’s family support center.
Concerned wives came to Bonamego Thursday seeking information that would
allay their fears of the worst. Until Friday, Bonamego had nothing to tell
them other than what she learned on the news, she said.
An Internet message board devoted to the 173rd Airborne Brigade was flooded
with notes asking for information. Wives were worried. Mothers were sleepless.
Families asked anyone with information about which units were affected
“Tom if you read this please call. Love, mom,” a woman wrote.
A woman calling herself “Red Devil Mom” reported that she had not slept
all night Wednesday night.
“I should be used to this by now, but it doesn't work like that,” the
woman wrote. “Prayer and Tylenol PM do help.”
Later on Thursday, message board readers got their first shock. Parents
of a soldier based in Vicenza wrote that their son was one of the four missing.
Notes of support came pouring in.
Still, others feared the unknown.
“We are desperate for news,” a mother wrote on Thursday. “Not knowing
is harder than finding something out.”
On Friday morning the Internet site’s Webmaster wrote that all next of
kin had been notified and that soldiers were under a “news blackout” and
unable to call or use e-mail.
That message offered some relief to Maria Letrien, whose fiancé is a
platoon leader in the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment (Airborne).
But since Letrien is not listed as a next-of-kin and had not been in
touch with her fiancé’s parents, she still worried.
“While I am trusting God that he is okay, being reassured would help
my nerves!” Letrien wrote Saturday under the pen name “Red Devil supporter
B-Co.” The regiment’s nickname is the Red Devils.
On Sunday, family members wrote excited messages saying they had heard
from their sons and husbands.
Letrien, who did not want to release her fiancé’s name, still waited.
Even when she gets assurance that her fiancé is OK, new concerns await
Letrien, she said.
She knows that many days he takes two helicopter rides to get between
“For me, it makes the year seem like it’s going to be a long year,” Letrien