Friends, families and fellow veterans of the names listed on a stone memorial for the 24th Infantry Division on Fort Stewart were gathered in a half-moon circle. The 16 names listed on the memorial are for those who were killed during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Current and former mayors of Hinesville, Fort Stewart leadership and former leaders of the 24th ID, including the 24th ID commanding general during Desert Storm, now-retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey attended a ceremony Friday on post commemorating the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm.
Brig. Gen. Douglas Crissman, commanding general-support of the 3rd Infantry Division, credited the 24th ID, saying Fort Stewart is “better because of the path you plowed for us 25 years ago.”
In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, which then requested help from the United States, as did Saudi Arabia.
“In the largest military alliance since World War II, the United States partnered with Saudi Arabia to lead a 39-country coalition to oppose Iraqi aggression and free Kuwait,” the ceremony’s narrator said.
By the end of the war, Iraq had lost more than half of its armored personnel carriers, nearly all of its artillery pieces and 3,847 of its 4,280 tanks, according to the narrator.
“Desert Storm was one of the fastest and most complete victories in American military history,” the narrator said.
He went on to say that while the U.S. suffered minimal causalities, attendees were there to remember the 16 division soldiers who were killed.
One of those being remembered was Spc. Andy Alaniz, who was killed Feb. 27, 1991.
His widow, Catherine Alaniz-Simonds, was introduced by Sgt. Ken Kozakiewicz, whose expression of anguish at the moment he learned of Alaniz’s death was immortalized in a famous photo by photojournalist David Turnley.
When Alaniz-Simonds came out to speak, she and Kozakiewicz embraced as the audience stood and applauded.
During her speech, Alaniz-Simonds said that at the time of her husband’s death, she was six months pregnant with their daughter and only child, whom she would name after him.
“God blessed me and gave me a bit of Andy to love for the rest of my life,” she said.
In 1995, Alaniz-Simonds lost her father in the Oklahoma City bombing. She said that the loss of her husband prepared her to help her mother through her own grieving.
“I also learned that forgiveness is very powerful,” she said. “Andy was killed by a friendly fire incident. I never once blamed that unit and, to this day, I still don’t.”
Alaniz-Simonds spoke to those who were still struggling after 25 years with a message based on her own experience dealing with the anger she felt for the men who killed her father, and her eventual forgiveness of them.
“So my advice to you: Be forgiving, be loving and remember, as long as we’re remembering those who died, their life will never be forgotten,” she said.
As McCaffrey came up to speak, a line of 24th ID veterans in Desert Storm-era uniforms stood at attention, saluting their former commander, and McCaffrey returned their salute.
“Twenty-six thousand troops. Unbelievable performance,” McCaffrey said when thanking the veterans at the ceremony. “There’s a good argument that the — that that was probably the most affective combat operation U.S. armed forces ever pulled off,” causing those in the stands to yell, “Hooah!”
McCaffrey praised the technology and equipment that they were given for the war, especially the M1 Abrams tank. But he said it was something else that would have won the war no matter what.
“But I’ll tell you right now, if we had swapped equipment with the Iraqis three days before the war, we still would’ve beat ’em,” he said to more loud “hooahs.” “And the reason was all of you in this audience, the American soldier.”
After his speech, veterans in Desert Storm-era uniforms came to the podium one by one to read a name listed on the memorial. Veterans in the audience held and supported each other as the names were read, letting out sighs and sniffles.
A gun volley and the sounding of taps brought the memorial ceremony to an end, but soldiers from the Victory Division stayed to pay their respects at the memorial, have photos taken and reconnect with old comrades.
Steve Harrington, a 24th ID Desert Storm veteran and co-founder of the reunion, said the experience was “indescribable.”
“It’s just a very special moment, and I’m glad these guys were able to get together and congregate and heal and know that they’re not alone.”