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With release of red balloons, crowd honors local soldiers killed 15 years by bomb in Iraq

Balloon Release (Jack Pearce/Flickr)

Making an emotional toast and releasing enough red balloons to be seen for miles, family members and a band of National Guard brothers and sisters Saturday marked the 15th anniversary of losing two of their own.

With a gentle wind sending more than 50 balloons north over Fredericksburg, a small crowd gathered to honor Stafford County native Sgt. David Ruhren and King George County native Sgt. Nicholas Mason, the first area Guardsmen killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

And there, at the National Guard Readiness Center now named in their honor, the crowd was moved by impromptu speeches given by the mothers of the two soldiers killed by a suicide bomber at a dining facility near Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 21, 2004. The attack left 20 others dead and 70 wounded.

Luray resident Sonja Ruhren, Sgt. Ruhren’s mother, recalled that on the night that a chaplain informed her of her son’s death, she was very angry, “extremely pissed.”

As she talked, the diminutive Ruhren was surrounded by 13 current and former Virginia National Guard soldiers, a mix of members of her son’s 229th Engineer Battalion and of the Richmond-based 276th Engineer Battalion it deployed with to Iraq in 2004.

“I told the chaplain I had my son for 19 years, with not one scratch,” she said, her voice cracking. “I gave him to the Army and you bring me back a flag. And in six months, you won’t remember his name. And that’s the truth, you won’t remember his name.”

But as she spoke in the hallway of the National Guard facility, a smile crept onto her face.

“Well, you know what? That chaplain never met the 276th,” she said. “Because of you, David Alan and Nicholas will never, ever be forgotten!”

The crowd that included members of two motorcycle groups that ride in honor of the military also heard from Mason’s mother, Christine.

“Gosh, here we are 15 years later, and so many people still care,” she said, her moist eyes taking in a crowd of people there to honor her son and Ruhren. “The emails and texts we get every year, it’s all so very humbling.”

The King George mom, who attended with her daughter, Carly, said that “it gives us comfort knowing the character of the men and women who spent the last year of Nick and Davey’s lives with them. And that all of you have become part of our lives . . . Thanks very much for picking us up and carrying us.”

The mothers then invited members of their sons’ unit to share stories or thoughts about them.

Teray Bundy of Richmond took them up on it, asking, “Who remembers that horn he talked us into putting on his vehicle?”

When laughter followed, he explained, “It was basically a ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ air horn that was loud as it could be. He worried us about it until we installed it, and then blew it every chance he got.”

Two soldiers who served with Mason made the drive from Newport News to honor them.

“I’m here to support their families and the brothers we served with,” said Darryl Green. “It never gets easy, this month of December when we remember what happened.”

Said Adrian Jones: “We do this in the remembrance of the sacrifices that were made—in this case, the ultimate sacrifice.”

Ruhren closed things off by noting that on her drive from Luray to Fredericksburg on Saturday, she was thinking about how people always tell her that her family and the Masons have been strong in their handling of such a loss.

“I want folks to remember they were with their brothers when this all happened,” she said, adding that seeing it that way gives her a measure of peace.

In comments to a reporter before addressing the crowd, Mason said her family never forgets the pain of their loss. But she said her family seeks positivity through raising funds for veterans through the “Frazier-Mason Some Gave All” foundation that’s raised more than $350,000 to date for a range of projects.


©2019 The Free Lance-Star