This article was published as part of a content-sharing agreement between Army Times and The Fayetteville Observer.

FORT LIBERTY — Several family members traced letters with their fingers on the 82nd Airborne Division monuments Tuesday at Fort Liberty.

One woman kissed a yellow rose before tapping a name on the monument and pressing her hand on it.

Gage Bell, 12, buried his head into his mother LaToya Bell’s chest as he wept for the father he never knew, 1st Sgt. Ryan Russell Bell, who was killed in action Aug. 2, 2012, while in Afghanistan.

All the family members are Gold Star families and attended the division’s annual memorial ceremony, which is part of All American Week.

“It’s our duty to gather in this sacred corner of North Carolina, precisely to honor our division’s heroes, those paratroopers who gave their tomorrows so that we can have our todays,” Maj. Gen. J. Patrick “Pat” Work, the division’s commander, told Tuesday’s crowd.

More than 5,000 paratroopers remembered

Capt. Jewett Williams wasn’t “just the first combat casualty” of the division when he was killed in action in 1918, Work said.

Williams was a company commander in the 326th Infantry Regiment who was an ordained Episcopal priest and voluntarily enlisted during World War I, insisting on an infantry commission, Work said.

“He also left behind his wife and his 5-month-old daughter,” Work said.

During World War II, Lt. Robert P. Mathias was the first American officer killed after midnight on D-Day, after being wounded by Nazi gunfire as he was shutting the door of a C-47, he said.

Mathias was a platoon leader in the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment and led a load of paratroopers out of the plane “despite being mortally wounded,” Work said.

The division’s last paratrooper killed in combat was Sgt. Bryan Cooper Mount, who died July 21, 2020, while conducting reconnaissance operations in Syria.

Among the division’s 5,098 paratroopers who did not survive the wars, Work said he personally wears a bracelet on his right wrist bearing the name of Spc. Thomas J. “T.J.” Barbiere.

Barbiere, Work said, was killed in action Aug. 23, 2006, at the age of 24 while in Baghdad.

“T.J. was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for a final act of bravery protecting another paratrooper in a place our paratroopers irreverently refer to as the Yusufiyah Triangle of Death,” he said.

Work said that each of the men and women honored by the division “has done the nation’s deadly work” while embodying duty.

All are remembered by paratroopers who continue their duty, he said.

Gold Star family never forgets

Among the Gold Star families attending Tuesday’s ceremony was Stan and Shirley White, who drove from West Virginia.

They wore dog tags with the face of their son, Staff Sgt. Robert “Bob” White, 34, who was killed Sept. 26, 2005, in Afghanistan after his mounted patrol came under enemy fire. He served with the division’s 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment.

His brother, Cpl. Andrew White, was a Marine who was in Iraq at the same time his brother was deployed to Afghanistan and died a few years after his brother “from complications from his PTSD,” which is post-traumatic stress disorder, Stan White said

The Whites said that growing up, Staff Sgt. White was a “daredevil” who wanted to jump out of airplanes.

“He was a good son, a good father, a good husband … and his name, along with many others, will never be forgotten,” Stan White said.

Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at or 910-486-3528.

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