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Troops Honor 15 Fallen Comrades

Caption US Army Spc. Charlie Wesley of the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment looks at a line of 15 rifles and helmets set up at the stadium in the Rifles US Base, near the Al-Asad Iraqi village, some 150 miles from Baghdad, Thursday, Nov. 6, 2003 prior to a ceremony commemorating the 15 soldiers killed Monday their CH-47 Chinook helicopter went down in Fallujah.
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Fifteen rifles stood in a row with their barrels down, each topped by a U.S. military helmet and framed by an empty pair of combat boots.

In the middle of a parched athletic field at this dusty desert camp, an officer with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment read 15 names in a solemn roll call Thursday. The only response was silence.

About 1,000 U.S. soldiers, some wearing spurs and black regimental hats from the Indian Wars of the Old West, gathered at the regiment's western Iraq headquarters to remember 15 comrades who died last weekend in the worst single attack against U.S. forces since the war began.

"Death was in the cause of freedom. They were serving our country and answering our nation's call to fight terrorists," said Col. David A. Teeples, commander of the regiment from Fort Carson, Colo.

"We honor them for their sacrifice. We honor them as Americans, as soldiers and as family."

Just a few hours after the memorial service for the 15 lost troops, the Iowa National Guard announced a sixteenth soldier, being treated at the Army hospital in Germany, also had died, reports CBS News Anchor Dan Rather.

On Sunday, guerrillas near Fallujah shot down one of two U.S. Army Chinook helicopters flying dozens of soldiers to Baghdad International Airport. From Baghdad, they were scheduled to fly home on leave.

Twenty-one other soldiers aboard were wounded in the attack, which underscored the growing resistance to the U.S.-led occupation. The insurgency has gradually spread through much of the Sunni Muslim areas in the center and north of the country.

Following the ceremony at the base 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, Teeples said there had been no reduction in helicopter flights since Sunday but "some adjustments" were made in times and flight paths.

"The troops remain mission-oriented and they do realize that they are in a high-stress combat area," Teeples said. "They are confident in their equipment and their training."

Near the end of Thursday's solemn ceremony, Command Sgt. Maj. John R. Caldwell called the roll, reading out the names and ranks of the 15 victims —13 men and two women.

Since their deaths, the lost soldiers' thwarted homecoming stories have surfaced, reports CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier.

Sergeant Ernest Bucklew was rushing home for his mother's funeral, and now his family is waiting for his remains, to lay him to rest together with her.

Staff Sgt. John Velazquez was on the way to see his 5-month-old daughter for the very first time.

Specialist Brian Penniston was headed back for his wedding. It was supposed to take place Nov. 7. His fiancé Johnna Loia said she spoke to him just hours before he boarded the aircraft.

"The last things he said to me were, 'I love you Mrs. Penniston,'" she said.

As cavalry units sometime do for formal ceremonies, many of the assembled soldiers wore black cavalry hats dating to the 19th century, with spurs attached to their combat boots.

The 30-minute ceremony featured a rendition of "America the Beautiful" and a reading of Psalm 23 from the Bible, which says in part, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death/I will fear no evil."

The service ended when Spc. Valerie Hills, of Grayson, La., sang "Amazing Grace," and a squad of soldiers fired three volleys into the night sky. Two combat helicopters then flew overhead.

Sgt. Charles Elliott, 43, reservist from Neodesha, Kan., said he was on a second Chinook that was flying in formation with the one that was hit.

They landed immediately after the crash, and the 22 people on board rushed out to help the injured.

"It did not look like a helicopter. I'd never seen anything that bad," Elliott said.

Despite the shock of seeing so many fellow soldiers dead or severely injured, Elliott, a fireman in civilian life who is serving in the 323rd Engineer Detachment, said he was determined to remain focused on his work.

"My intention is to do my job and to do my job well, and if I do then I won't have to come to many of these."

The regimental chaplain Maj. Christopher Faria said individual memorial services already had been held before the collective one.

"There is a lot of anger and shock at what happened, and with this memorial service we are trying to provide a channel for the grief," Faria said.