NAJAF, Iraq — Soldier after soldier broke down in tears as they rendered their last salutes to a tough, decorated infantryman from Westminster.
Thursday's memorial ceremony for Staff Sgt. Victor A. Rosales, of Westminster, and a fellow soldier, Spc. Allen Vantayburg, was simple, moving and traditional.
"Today, two more of our brothers are standing in another formation," said Rosales' commanding officer, Lt. Col. Peter A. Newell, as soldiers faced two helmets slung on the butts of rifles bayoneted into blocks of wood -- symbols of fallen soldiers.
Rosales died Tuesday when his convoy was ambushed as it moved toward this Shiite holy city south of Baghdad.
He was riding in the cab of a heavy equipment trailer when a roadside bomb -- a remotely detonated artillery shell -- exploded, blasting the convoy with shrapnel. At first, his fellow soldiers thought Rosales was OK.
"He was breathing on his own. That's a good sign," one soldier said of Rosales after the firing stopped and the convoy halted down the road. Another remarked that the 29-year-old soldier had just been promoted.
Helicopters evacuated the wounded man and then made another pass above the convoy.
"Hey, they found out that Rosales just got scratched so they're bringing him right back to the unit," joked Pfc. Daniel Chapman of Detroit. Others laughed, but by then Rosales was dying, or already dead.
Born in Mexico City, Rosales joined the Army in 1995. His wife, Sandra, also signed up and is serving in Iraq while relatives care for their son Victor.
During the ceremony, a roll call was conducted and a sergeant barked out the name of Rosales three times to be echoed by silence. Then the soldiers filed out into the heat and dust, tears unashamedly streaming down their sand-blown faces.