Ceremony honors first U.S. combat casualty
FORT LEWIS, Washington (CNN) -- Under a dark, drizzly sky, U.S. military officials on Thursday honored Army Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman, the first American soldier to die in combat in the U.S. war against terrorism.
Chapman, 31, was killed by enemy fire January 4 while on a mission coordinating with local tribal elements near the town of Khowst in eastern Afghanistan.
Renae Chapman accepted the Combat Infantryman's Badge Second Award, Purple Heart and Bronze Star in her late husband's honor during ceremonies at the U.S. Special Forces compound in Fort Lewis, Washington. The awards recognized Chapman's "exceptionally valorous action in the face of overwhelming odds in direct hostile aggression," military officials said.
"He and the others will never be forgotten," said Maj. George McDonald of Chapman's unit, the 1st Special Forces Group.
A rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" was followed by "Taps" and a 21-gun salute. Four Chinook helicopters carrying a U.S. flag suspended from a cable then took to the sky, slowly circling as hundreds of servicemen and women stood at attention.
Officials renamed the traffic circle where the service was held to Chapman Circle -- "an incredibly small gesture made in an effort to honor, remember and memorialize Nathan and his sacrifice to our nation, way of life and God," one of his fellow soldiers said.
Chapman's name was also added to a granite memorial stone that bears the names of Special Forces troops killed in the line of duty.
Throughout the 30-minute ceremony, Renae Chapman sat erect, grasping her 2-year-old daughter Amanda as the young girl sucked on a blue pacifier. The couple also have a 1-year-old son.
Born to a military family
Chapman was born to a military family, growing up in Woodward, Virginia; Montgomery, Alabama; Las Vegas, Nevada; Littleton, Colorado; and Centerville, Ohio. He graduated from Centerville High School in the spring of 1988, enlisting in the Army that July.
The following year, Chapman saw his first combat action in Panama as part of Operation Just Cause. He served in Saudi Arabia two years later, participating in the Gulf War.
In 1991, Chapman began training for the Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, graduating the subsequent year. He deployed to Haiti in 1995 in 1995 as part of Operation Uphold Democracy.
Chapman volunteered in November to go to Afghanistan, where he was killed in action.
In an interview with CNN's Aaron Brown, Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. war against terror in Afghanistan, said Chapman was killed working as a U.S. Special Forces liaison to Afghan opposition leaders.
"Sergeant Chapman was part of a team whose job it was to make the arrangements to affect the coordination with such leaders in order to continue to move our forces through areas inside Afghanistan," Franks said. "He was involved in one of these liaison and coordination missions when in fact he was engaged and killed. Brave man doing just exactly what our country asked him to do."
In a videotaped interview conducted by the Army earlier this week, Renae Chapman described her husband as "a quiet professional who just wanted to change the world."
"He gave everything he had, everywhere he went, to everyone he knew," she said. "And he wanted to make everybody happy."
Being a Green Beret was part of who he was, said Renae Chapman, and "I wouldn't have had him any other way."
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