Memorial honors fallen soldiers of 111th Infantry

Kurt Krout
Kurt Krout
Posted: November 13, 2012

Just over seven years ago, National Guard member Joshua Hedetniemi was in northern Iraq, near Beiji, riding security patrols with Alpha Company of the First Battalion, 111th Infantry, in armored humvees repeatedly targeted by roadside bombs.

On Sunday afternoon, he stood on a sun-drenched hillside in Plymouth Meeting, playing "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes as the families of seven fallen comrades laid chrysanthemums on a new memorial honoring their sacrifice.

Over the space of four searing days in August 2005, six members of Hedetniemi's platoon were killed in two separate attacks - a double blow that brought home the rising intensity of the Iraq conflict to the Philadelphia region.

On another activation four years later, a seventh member of the regiment was killed by small-arms fire, making the 111th one of the hardest-hit Pennsylvania National Guard units since World War II.

"They were really good dudes. We miss them a lot," said Hedetniemi, a staff sergeant, one of 29 men in the unit who despite the losses, went back to Iraq for a second tour in 2009.

Jessica Wright, who headed the Pennsylvania National Guard when the soldiers died and who now serves in the Pentagon as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, gave a brief keynote address at the dedication of the 111th Infantry Regiment's Fallen Warrior Memorial, next to regimental headquarters on Belvoir Road.

More than 200 men, women and children - with about half the attendees in uniform - participated in the Veterans Day event, listening in respectful silence as Wright extolled the service of those "who fought to preserve this intangible thing that Americans call freedom."

"The memorial is awesome," said Dana Pellegrini of York, Pa., whose late brother, Gennaro, known as Jerry, was among the honored soldiers. "We know they won't be forgotten . . .. It's in stone. It's not going to go away."

The granite memorial identifies each of the seven soldiers killed in the Iraqi conflict, and the dates they fell:

On Aug. 6, 2005, two members of the battalion's Alpha Company, based in Northeast Philadelphia, were riding with a military convoy on the Samara bypass north of Baghdad. A roadside bomb blast killed Spec. Kurt E. Krout, 43, of Spinnerstown, Bucks County; and Sgt. Brahim J. Jeffcoat, 25, of Philadelphia.

Three days later, insurgents ambushed a four-vehicle Alpha Company patrol near its base at Beiji. Four men were killed: Pfc. Nathaniel DeTample, 19, of Morrisville, a student at Shippensburg University; Spec. Gennaro Pellegrini, 31, a Philadelphia police officer; Spec. Francis J. Straub Jr., 24, of Philadelphia, an employee of United Parcel Service; and Spec. John Kulick, 35, of Harleysville, a full-time firefighter in Whitpain and father of a 9-year-old girl.

Memories of that attack were brought to life earlier this year when federal authorities in Kentucky reported that two Iraqi nationals, admitted to the United States as political refugees, were discovered to have plotted against U.S. forces in the Beiji area. No connection to the Alpha attacks was established, but many Alpha veterans came to believe the pair had been involved.

The battalion was deployed to Iraq a second time in 2009 with the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based in Northeast Philadelphia.

On. Feb. 21, 2009, Staff Sgt. Mark C. Baum, 32, of Quakertown, a corrections officer at the Bucks County prison, was hit by small-arms fire and killed. He was a father of three.


Contact Bob Warner at 215-854-5885 or warnerb@phillynews.com.

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