A young boy made faces and held tightly to his father’s army fatigues as they smiled for a photograph with the secretary of the Army.
Maj. Steven Richter led the medical operation during last year’s Fort Hood shooting and was nearby when he heard gunfire rip through the air 50 feet away in an adjacent building.
But Friday morning, only a breeze swept through a silent memorial as friends and family gathered to honor the living for their courage and to remember their fallen comrades at the ceremony for the shooting’s one-year anniversary.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh awarded 52 medals to service members and civilians for acts of courage during the shooting. A soldier then pulled back the cloth covering a memorial stone that read, “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
Under the inscription were the names of the 12 soldiers and one civilian who were killed.
McHugh said the story of Nov. 5, 2009 will always be one of overwhelming sadness for the Army and Fort Hood, but there is another story about courage and sacrifice in the face of deadly challenges.
“For all its glory, this is really a story that is very common in this great land and in our history,” McHugh said. “Our hope is lifted and our resolve is strengthened by those who rush toward the burning building, toward the sounds of gunshot and chaos and destruction to lend their hands — and sometimes, render their lives in service to their fellow men.”
McHugh awarded Richter the Soldier’s Medal, the most prestigious honor a soldier can earn in a noncombat zone. Thirty-two were wounded that day, and several were brought into his area. Richter said there could have been a lot more deaths had the shooting taken place farther away from the Army’s medical center.
“There were so many people that did great things that day, it’s great that so many could be recognized for what [soldiers] take for granted and what we would do regardless,” Richter said.
Richter said he could not comment on the details of what he saw because of alleged shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan’s ongoing military trial. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who was eventually subdued by military police, is currently in a pretrial hearing for 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder. Hasan’s trial will resume on Nov. 15. Hasan could face the death penalty if convicted of the shooting.
Mental Health Noncommissioned Officer Aaron Puckett, a 31-year-old Kentucky native, said he was watching the events unfold when Spc. Logan Burnette burst through the double glass doors 50 feet away. Puckett, who was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, then charged outside and dragged Burnette inside the building before applying first aid to the wounded soldier.
“If I live to be 300 years old, I’ll never see nothing like that again,” he said. “All the newspapers back home asked me, ‘Do you feel like a hero?’ But, you know, we just reacted.”
Michael Cahill was a physician’s assistant at Fort Hood and was the only civilian killed during the attack. Cahill liked reading books for long stretches of time, visiting family in Alaska and smoking cigarettes, said Cahill’s brother-in-law, Kevin Murphy.
“Just a good man and a heck of a loss,” Murphy said.
Cahill’s wife, Jolene, said the loss of her husband left a great void at Fort Hood where the soldiers held great respect for him.
Over the course of the past year, each family of the departed has experienced many firsts without their loved ones, Maj. Gen. William Grimsley told the families gathered at the memorial.
“Maybe it was the first wedding anniversary without your spouse, the first big school event without your mom or dad,” Grimsley said. “All of us in the Fort Hood and broader Central Texas community share in your grief and use the loss of your loved ones as a source of strength to grow and to be better servants of our nation on your behalf.”