GRANITEVILLE, S.C. - The air was crisp but the sun shone brightly on the hundreds of Soldiers, family, friends and veterans who listened to stories of three fallen heroes being honored at the dedication of the 1221st Route Clearance Engineering Company Fallen Soldier Memorial at the South Carolina National Guard's Armory in Graniteville, South Carolina, Dec. 5, 2015.
The memorial, which stands in front of the facility, was years in the making, with design, fundraising and construction. It was built by the 1221st to honor the lives of three of their fallen comrades who were killed during combat operations in the Global War on Terror. They are U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Willie Harley, Sgt. Luther "Will" Rabon and U.S. Marine Cpl. Matthew Dillon.
"This memorial was a lot of hard work by a lot of hardworking people," said Capt. Christopher Huber, commander of the 1221st. "It's a place for us to come to reflect. Anyone is welcome here to think about a fallen comrade."
During the ceremony, members of the Patriot Riders held American flags, flanking the memorial, which is a large bricked, circular wall around a flagpole. The backdrop of the wall is in the shape of the U.S. Army engineer castle. At the base of the flagpole is a metal cast of boots, rifle and helmet, the symbol of a fallen Soldier.
Representatives from the unit shared stories and their fondest memories of the three heroes. Before the presentations, Staff Sgt. Frank Verant, who spearheaded the efforts to build the memorial, took a moment to thank the family members, volunteers, veterans, friends and benefactors who made the day possible.
"There were some tough times when we had roadblocks and weren't sure if we would ever see the memorial complete," Verant said. "But it was the commitment of the unit and so many in the community who wanted to ensure we honored our fallen brothers."
Sgt. Raymond Henry shared his deepest admiration of Harley and how his unparalleled example as a leader still inspires him today to be positive, strong and dedicated father and Soldier.
Rabon was remembered by a longtime friend and fellow Soldier Staff Sgt. Travis Maroney for his unbridled commitment to family and the passion he had about life.
Sgt. Clarence Palmer recalled the fun and happy times with Dillon, smiling as he talked about karaoke and Dillon's love of country music and singing. Dillon deployed with the 1221st to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 and was a recipient of the Purple Heart for injuries sustained from a roadside bomb in 2004. He re-enlisted in the Marine Corps and deployed again to Iraqi Freedom in 2006. On Dec. 11, 2006, Dillon was killed in Anbar province, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle.
Harley and Rabon, who deployed with the 1221st to Operation Enduring Freedom, were killed Oct. 1, 2010, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, from wounds sustained when insurgents attacked their military vehicle with an improvised explosive device.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Van McCarty, deputy adjutant general, South Carolina National Guard, spoke of the tremendous commitment of service members and those who paid the ultimate price to defend the American way of life. He also expressed gratitude to the families of the fallen for allowing their loved ones to serve and for their sacrifice. The event concluded with a gun salute by members of the unit and the playing of Taps.
"The bonds of service are unique and difficult to describe," said McCarty "But when you are a part of it, you know it's something special."