Fallen Soldier

March 7, 2007 | By Chris Hondros | News

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

The chapel of Forward Operating Base Falcon was packed; the pews were full of soldiers, from generals to privates, and more men stood alongside the walls and in the back. At the front, on a chancel made of plywood, was an assault rifle, mounted vertically, a helmet on its stock, and tan desert boots at its base. From the weapon hung dog tags — the dog tags of Staff Sergeant Karl Soto-Pinedo, who was killed by an insurgent last week in Baghdad. The memorial ceremony began precisely at seven-thirty, as planned.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Five speakers took their turns at a lectern next to Soto-Pinedo’s memorial stand. One by one they extolled the virtues of battlefield bravery and of Soto-Pinedo’s drive and initiative in particular. Raised in Puerto Rico, Soto-Pinedo needed to take an English proficiency course as soon as he joined the Army in October 2002, just out of high school. He was good with people and obviously well-liked; a slideshow of snapshots projected on a screen showed him arm and arm with his buddies, many of them now sitting red-eyed in this room. He towered over most of them; his nickname was Big Soto. He’d just been promoted to Staff Sergeant two months ago.

After the speakers were finished, an Army chaplain said a prayer. Then, suddenly, there was the Last Roll Call: a gruff-voiced First Sergeant somewhere in the crowd bellowed out the name of one of his men; that soldier called back in a sharp retort. The sergeant called another man; he called back instantly. Then the sergeant called out “Sgt. Soto!”.

The room was quiet.

“Staff Sgt. Soto!”

More silence.

“Staff Sergeant Karl Soto-Pinedo!”

Absolute quiet, inside and out. Iraq, the land of constant cacophony, seemed to hold its breath in tribute.

Then, piercing the stillness like the sudden shot that felled Soto, three volleys of gunfire from outside the chapel. A trumpeter, also outside, played Taps, legato, hushed.

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Finally, in pairs, the officers in the room approached the memorial stand. They saluted in unison. Major General Fils, the commander of Soto’s First Infantry Division, reached out and touched the helmet, gently, as if it were a newborn baby’s cheek. More officers followed; many were crying. Then the enlisted men approached, more informally; they stood sometimes six or seven abreast; saluting slowly, not always in sync. Several of them grabbed Soto’s dog tags, pulling the chain taught, and prayed or wept or both.

Karl Soto-Pinedo was killed last Tuesday, felled by a bullet during a routine patrol in Baghdad. He was 22.

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  • Joe

    What about any of this is sport, or entertainment? Creative perhaps, but really it’s disgusting. Ethnic cleansing, injured children, and dead innocents are serious issues. What is Ghetty images trying to get out of this? I understand that blogging is the new wave, but doesn’t Chris own his images? Here the blandness of the copy offends. Can’t he publish them elswhere and give them the attention they deserve?

  • Amy N

    Chris, Thank you for a powerful piece of writing. Like many others, I heard your interview on NPR this morning and have been looking over your blog. It is heartrending to hear of the deaths in this conflict. This is the first piece I’ve seen or heard that highlights the mourning of the comrades in arms of the fallen. I often imagine what the families (3200 plus families at this point) are going through at the loss of their loved ones. I’ve neglected to think of what those who step onto the battle field day-in and day-out must feel when one of their own dies. I pray daily for peace. I hope for healing for all these young men and women who will carry the scars of this conflict the rest of their lives.

  • http://www.zanzig.com/blog Mark Zanzig

    While I understand that some of the posts on the Getty Images News Blog might be confusing for the first time reader (like one of the previous commenters), I appreciate the time you and your colleagues are taking to provide a glimpse at “the story behind the story” with your posts. Personally, I’d like to see a bit more photo technique – how did you actually shoot the photos? – but your insights into the life of a photo journalist are highly appreciated anyway. They help me to understand the news better, they help me understanding our world better, and they inspire me to think about what I am seeing. Please, keep up the good work! (And yes, I am anciously waiting for your next blog entry. :-)

  • Jonathan Hartness

    Poignant photos and a descriptive narrative to complete the story. As always, well done. Keep up the good work.