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"Good to be among veterans"

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U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Casey Watters never did anything halfway.

His wife, Rachael Watters — also a U.S. Army veteran — says he did everything with full zeal: his military service, being a husband and father; even his hobbies of fishing, hunting, and shooting.

“He was an amazing father and just so passionate about everything that he did,” Rachael says at Eagle Point National Cemetery Monday during the facility’s annual Memorial Day program.

That passion helped Casey save multiple soldiers’ lives during his second tour Iraq tour, 2004-05, when the lead vehicle of a convoy he was part of struck an improvised explosive device. The force of the resulting blast caused Casey to launch toward the ceiling of his own Humvee, his neck smashing against the metal surface. An ambush from enemy combatants followed.

In the midst of the chaos, Casey managed to call in air support. AH-64 Apache helicopters rushed to the attacked convoy’s aide.

“He was the hero of the day,” Rachael recalls.

Casey died of cancer several years later on June 17, 2009, due to exposure to depleted uranium during his first Iraq tour. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

Rachael, now a resident of Medford, attended the cemetery’s Memorial Day program to honor her late husband’s memory and sacrifice. The event included flyovers from 173rd Fighter Wing F-15 Eagles out of Klamath Falls’ Kingsley Field and World War II biplanes. Also featured were speeches from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, the posting of colors, military honors, taps and honorary songs performed by the Southern Oregon Scottish Bagpipe Band.

“Memorial Day is always particularly difficult for me just because it’s the same weekend of my wedding anniversary,” Rachael says, adding that the couple met at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where they were both originally stationed with the 101st Airborne Division. “But to be here, I’m thinking more about my brothers and sisters that are buried here. It feels good to be among veterans on a day like today.”

Casey had previously paid his own homage to military veterans, specifically those from World War II. In 2004, he had been selected to be part of a commemorative jump into Normandy on the 60th anniversary of D-Day. The jump ended up being canceled because of weather, but he got to escort some of the conflict veterans whose service was showcased in the “Band of Brothers” book and HBO miniseries.

“Different people who actually did jump into Normandy,” Rachael says.

After the Iraq convoy attack, Casey had to be medevaced because of the injury he sustained. The impact from his collision with the Humvee ceiling caused severe nerve damage.

“He would be going out on patrols and losing the feeling in his arm,” Rachael says.

His cancer diagnosis came soon after.

The Eagle Point event was a comfort, Rachael says. Tuesday, May 28, will be the Watters’ 15-year wedding anniversary, but being among so many others who had also lost loved ones made her feel more at home.

“It feels so good to be here among the community, among so many veterans” she says. “It makes it a lot easier to process and deal with, doing it with people who know what today means.”

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune The National Cemetery Memorial Day celebration is held at the Eagle Point National Cemetery on Monday.