Veterans Day: Gone But Never Forgotten

Leilani Fierro, Editor in Chief

She sits at the dinner table, pushing questions to her dad. Her mom left the dinner table as the questions escalated, almost not able to hear his answers. She watches him ponder his thoughts, reliving the memories. Enduring the moment all over again. She listens completely captivated by his stories, some funny, lighthearted, just young soldiers making the most of their situations. But most dark, stomach churning, heart wrenching, just young soldiers that wanted to make a difference but never came home. 

Assigned to B Company, 46th Engineer Battalion, Sergeant First Class Jose Fierro deployed to Ramadi, Iraq Oct. of 2006, for Operation Iraqi Freedom. At the time of the deployment, he was an E5 Operations NCO, in charge of the day-to-day activity, ammo, and ensured missions were completed while deployed.

“June 6 started like any other day. [I] woke up, put on my uniform and got to work. We were under daily motor attacks. It was part of our routine,” Sgt. Fierro said. “The carpenters were cleaning up the scrapes that they had left over from their last project, the alarm sounded that bombs were coming in. We usually had 5 seconds to take cover.”

Sgt. Carlos Pernell, 25, 46th Engineer Battalion, Fort Rucker Alabama (Photo by Courtesy Photo)

Specialist Andy D. Anderson and Specialist Carlos Pernell were amongst the soldiers cleaning the area. Unable to take cover, Specialist Anderson sustained injuries, killing him immediately on impact. Specialist Pernell sustained injuries from flying shards, still alive when the medics arrived. 

“He tried talking to us, but it was nothing but gurgling from the blood. The medics asked soldiers to donate blood to keep Cornell alive. One Hundred soldiers got in a line ready to give their blood to help try to save him,” Sgt. Fierro said. “But when the medic came out from the tent, that’s when we all knew that he didn’t make it. They confirmed the death of the two soldiers. Chaos broke out across the camp, people were freaking out, I think that is when we realized the reality of what was going on.”

At the time of death, Specialist Anderson was 24. Specialist Pernell was 25, recently married to an expecting wife. After the death of any soldier overseas, protocols require their personal belongings to be returned home to their family.

“Specialist Anderson just had personal things like letters and food. Pernell had pictures of his wife with her baby bump and wedding pictures they had just taken before we left,” Sgt. Fierro said. “That day, they didn’t have to go clean the site. They just wanted to get it done. I remember walking past them before the explosion and they were there having a good time joking around. Trying to do the right thing, and then they were gone. That’s the reality of serving our country.” 

The company had 4 months left in Iraq. 

“After that, bombings were different. After every attack, we would check up on everyone. The attacks hit the company a little harder,” Sgt. Fierro said. “It didn’t change the way we had to respond. Even though they were dead. We were still at war and we still had missions to complete. We couldn’t just stop.” 

Specialist Anderson and Specialist Pernell returned home in a casket with an American flag laying on top. Both soldiers received a rank promotion. Specialist Anderson, promoted to Army Corporal Andy Dee Anderson. Specialist Pernell, promoted to Sergeant Carlos Pernell. 

Cpl. Andy Dee Anderson, 24, 46th Engineer Battalion, Fort Rucker Alabama (Photo by Courtsey Photo)

In Iraq, the company held a memorial service for their fallen brothers. Soldiers made a video and a program in their name. The company then stood in formation, and the First Sergeant did roll call of the battalion. When they got to Cpl. Anderson’s and Sgt. Pernell’s name, they called each name three times.

“When there was no answer on the third call, the firing squad fired, and they played the song every soldier dreads to hear,” Sgt Fierro said. “ When we did our final salute to their boots, gun and dog tag it was in that moment, the reality of war was real. We were never gonna see them again. And it really hit me that I may not make it home.”

Sergeant First Class Jose Fierro served in the military for 21 years and went overseas on deployments five times. He understands the importance of honoring active, reserved, and fallen Veterans on Veterans day. 

“I don’t need Veterans Day to remember them. I remember them pretty much every day, but I think on veterans day it’s more of a thought process of we made it, we are still alive and some of them didn’t,” Sgt. Fierro said. “It’s trying to remember and appreciate the life that we still have. And make them proud, by living a life that they would have had, given the chance.”

Sergeant First Class Jose Fierro is my dad. And unlike many others, I am able to hug, talk to, laugh with and grow alongside my soldier every day. A privilege that I will never take for granted. Sgt. Carlos Pernell’s daughter is just a year younger than me. I’ve never met her and did not have the opportunity to meet her dad, but I will forever be thankful for the sacrifice they have made for this country. Army Corporal Andy Dee Anderson and Sergeant Carlos Pernell, and all the other soldiers, fallen or alive will never be absent from my mind, and I make a promise to every soldier and their families, I will celebrate each Veterans Day and Memorial Day with gratitude toward their sacrifice.