KABUL, Afghanistan -- More than 100 U.S. and NATO troops gathered Saturday at NATO headquarters to mark what Resolute Support commander Gen. John W. Nicholson called "one of the most sacred traditions for Americans" -- Memorial Day.
"One of the greatest strengths of our historic coalition of 41 nations is the opportunity to share and honor our respective traditions," Nicholson said.
Memorial Day, which began as a tradition after the Civil War when groups decorated the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers, "offers us an opportunity to pay respect to our past, focus on the present and look forward to the future," Nicholson said.
He said the ceremony not only honored all of America's war dead, but especially "all of our fallen from this war," including more than 2,300 U.S. servicemembers, 1,100 coalition members and 26,500 members of the Afghan security forces.
Nicholson recalled when he and Delbert Byers, now the command sergeant major for Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, were serving together in eastern Afghanistan in 2006. He told the story of Lt. Col. Joseph Fenty, who served under him when he commanded the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division.
Fenty could have gone home in April 2006 for the birth of his first child, Nicholson said, but insisted on staying until the mission was done. A month later, Fenty and nine other soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division were killed when their CH-47 Chinook crashed in Kunar province. Nicholson and Byers carried Fenty's body to a helicopter after recovering it from the crash site two days later.
Now the NATO mission's top officer and senior enlisted leader, Nicholson and Byers embraced after laying a wreath at a memorial to all those killed in Afghanistan.
"We have a duty to remember each of them," Nicholson said.