Honoring 77 fallen paratroopers, Spartan Brigade conducts memorial jump at Malamute drop zone
Ahead of Memorial Day, the 4-25 is remembering fallen servicemen and women during its Spartan Memorial Week
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Tuesday, a group gathered at the Malamute Drop Zone, an area that typically serves as a training base for paratroopers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.
That morning, however, the area was also a memorial, where a growing group of comrades-in-arms, friends and family gathered to honor 77 fallen members of the Alaska-based 4-25.
“There are 77 memorial jumpers that are jumping with a name tape and dog tags of our loved ones,” said Candy Martin, a Gold Star mother visiting the base Tuesday.
Martin’s son, 1st Lt. Thomas Martin, was part of the brigade and died on Oct. 14, 2007.
“That was the year they lost 53 paratroopers during that deployment,” Martin said. “Tom was No. 53.”
The Spartan Brigade, as the 4-25 is also known, conducted the jump Tuesday as part of Spartan Memorial Week. Each of the names of the more than six dozen paratroopers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in wars overseas were carried, one by one, by current paratroopers jumping from above the drop zone.
“They remember those — not only the first 53 killed in action, but all 77 of them — that have perished,” Martin said. “They lost their lives, because they believed in something bigger than themselves.”
Noala Fritz, another Gold Star mother visiting Alaska this week, lost one of her children the same year as Martin: 1st Lt. Jake Fritz died on Jan. 20, 2007. Fritz said her son was abducted and executed as a prisoner of war with four others.
“The thing I remember most about Jake was he favored me, blonde hair, blue eyes,” Fritz said. “But he had what we used to call a barrel chest. No matter who you were, young or old, male or female, when he saw you after a while, or it had been a while, you got this huge smile and this big, old bear hug. And his chest hit you first.
“Memorial Day weekend is not sales and picnics,” she continued. “It is a remembrance of those that were willing to give their all for us, to stay free. And I think that’s extremely important for all of us to remember, that it’s the United States, that we’re free because of them.”
As the worlds of so many Gold Star families expanded, they somehow got smaller, too. For Martin and Fritz, a friendship was strengthened in their shared losses.
“Our sons were friends. We’re now tied in a different way,” Fritz said. “We’re bonded forever, because, we don’t have to ... People say, ‘How’d you feel?’ We don’t have to discuss that. We know how it feels.
“It’s hard to explain,” she added. “I’m a little bit emotional. But part of that emotion is pride and love for my sons and what they’ve chosen to do.”
Martin shared vivid memories not only of when her own son passed, but when she learned of Fritz’s death, too.
“I can still remember when Jake was killed,” she said, explaining that she was in the middle of texting her own son. “As a mom, I knew something was wrong. But he couldn’t tell me. Finally, he said, ‘Have you heard about...’ And it was the incident that had happened.
“And he sent me the link,” she continued, “and I said, ‘This really bothers you. Who was it?’ And... it’s Jake. Nine months later, we got that knock at the door.”
As the years go on, loved ones hold close those lost, reflecting on their memories.
“Tom had a smile bigger than life,” Martin said. “It’s been 15 years for us... but it really warms my heart to know that there are always units like this, that will remember. And there are American public that will remember what this is always about.”
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