Fort Hood Shooting Victims, Families Receive Medals
FORT HOOD, Texas --
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Jeffrey and Sheryll Pearson look at the portrait of their son, Army Pfc. Michael Pearson, before the Purple Heart and Defense of Freedom award ceremony on Fort Hood, Texas, April 10, 2015. The event honored the 13 people killed and more than 30 injured in a gunman’s 2009 shooting rampage on the base. U.S. Army photo by Daniel Cernero
After nearly six years and a legislative wording change, shooting victims from the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood were recognized during a Purple Heart and Defense of Freedom medal award ceremony here yesterday.
“Hundreds of lives have been woven together by this single day of valor and loss,” Army Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, 3rd Corps and Fort Hood commanding general, told the soldiers, civilians and families gathered for the somber occasion.
Victims and family members of the fallen from that tragic day at the ceremony received their medals. MacFarland, joined by Army Secretary John McHugh, presented Purple Hearts and Secretary of Defense Medals for the Defense of Freedom.
Thirteen people were killed in the shooting at Fort Hood’s Soldier Readiness Processing Center that day. Another 31 were wounded by gunfire. The gunman was convicted and sentenced to death in September 2013.
“We honor the memories of the 13 souls laid to eternal rest and pay tribute to their sacrifice,” MacFarland said. “We also remember the acts of courage and selflessness by soldiers and civilians which prevented an even greater calamity from occurring that day.”
Military, Civilian Medals Awarded
Purple Hearts were presented to representatives of 10 soldiers killed Nov. 5, 2009, as well as to 26 of those wounded.
The Defense of Freedom Medal, the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart, was presented to the family of Michael Cahill, the lone civilian contractor killed that day, as well as to Kimberly Munley, the Department of the Army civilian police officer who was shot when she responded to the scene.
Medal recipients who could not be at the Fort Hood ceremony will not be forgotten, MacFarland said. Purple Hearts for four wounded soldiers and the families of two soldiers killed in the tragedy will be awarded at local ceremonies throughout the nation.
“We honor them, as well,” the general said.
Medal recipients hailed from 21 states and from units across Fort Hood and throughout the United States. Seven of those killed were activeduty soldiers, five were reservists and one was a civilian contractor.
Bravery, Spirit, Resilience
“Although no words can resurrect those we lost or completely erase the scars,” MacFarland said, “Today’s ceremony is an opportunity to provide a sense of closure to those who were injured or those who lost a loved one.”
The general praised the bravery of first responders who rushed into the active scene, and distracted the shooter so others could escape, and provided emergency aid to the wounded.
“Their bravery has been matched only by their resilience – the spirit of which is seen throughout the Army,” MacFarland said.
Four soldiers from the 20th Engineer Battalion at Fort Hood died that 2009 day, and 11 were wounded.
Three more soldiers died, these assigned to the 467th Medical Detachment, an Army Reserve unit based in Madison, Wisconsin. Four others form that unit were wounded in the shooting. Despite these losses, both units deployed to Afghanistan within months.
Recalling a Tragedy
Retired Army Gen. Bob Cone, who commanded 3rd Corps and Fort Hood in 2009, recalled the remarkable resilience and bravery the post’s community displayed the day of the shootings.
Less than two months after taking command at Fort Hood, Cone was on his way to speak at a college graduation ceremony at Howze Auditorium, which shared a parking lot with the shooting site, when he was alerted to avoid the area.
Cone said he will always remember the tragedy and pain of that day, but also the way the installation and surrounding community rallied.
“I think what struck me most was the tremendous sense of purpose and resilience of the soldiers, civilians and first responders as the scene,” Cone said. “At the moment of greatest need, these professionals were at their very best, using their combat training to respond to the crisis, to treat and evacuate the wounded, and to care for each other.”
Close Community Ties
Cone said he was also struck by the response from the Texas community around Fort Hood.
“The outpouring of support for everything from blood transfusions, to local hospitality for families, to financial contributions, was simply amazing,” the former corps commander said. “In so many ways, the community’s response truly represents the remarkable bond between this installation and this community.”
Heroes stepped up that day, and heroes continue to support the wounded and the families of those killed, Cone said.
Survivors have changed and adapted, he said, and he has seen the progress made.
“I have monitored many of you as you have struggled, adapted, triumphed or stumbled. While there has been much pain, there has also been great progress,” Cone said.
“That is the essence of being a survivor. That is the essence of being a victor over a terrible incident like this.”
Healing Each Other
Capt. Dorothy Carskadon, a reservist on duty with the 467th Combat Stress Control Unit the day of the shootings, returned to her civilian job as a social worker at a veterans’ center following the incident.
Working with combat veterans and their families aided her recovery, Carskadon said.
“It really helped me move through the issues that I needed to move through,” she said.
Carskadon said she has found an outpouring of support for herself and her spouse from her community, church, family and friends. “It is overwhelming,” she said. “It has been overwhelming since day one.”
Soldiers like Carskadon illustrated the bittersweet victory that Cone said marked the ceremony.
“For the recipients of today’s awards, both living and deceased, today is about victory,” Cone said. “Today is about fully documenting and acknowledging your sacrifice for this great nation.”
Many of those wounded that November day said the ceremony served not only as a recognition of their sacrifice and injuries, but also of the magnitude of the shooting. They thanked legislators for their efforts to make the awards presentations possible.
Purple Heart Brings ‘Validation’
Receiving the Purple Heart validates her experience, Carskadon said.
“It validates that it was a terrorist activity,” she said. “It draws a line, a distinction between workplace violence and terrorism.”
Kerry Cahill, daughter of the lone civilian killed on Nov. 5, 2009, said there is more to do. Too many veterans, she said, struggle with suicide and behavioral health concerns from incidents such as the one that claimed her father. Those concerns were what her father devoted his life helping soldiers through, his daughter recalled.
‘A Great Weight’
“We’re not done,” she said. “With these medals, with all of this, comes a great weight, because I am not doing enough … [that is] how I feel every day because I can’t do what my dad did. I am not in the room with a soldier every day, asking how they’re sleeping, asking if they need help.”
Retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford was shot seven times Nov. 5, 2009, while working at the soldier center alongside his friend Michael Cahill. Lunsford said he worries about veteran suicides and about his fellow Fort Hood survivors.
“Within our family, the Fort Hood family,” Lunsford said, “we stay in constant communication with each other, so that we do not let those demons of the night come back and haunt us.”