One of the dead is a father of four children, the oldest age 8. Another is remembered by his wife as quite the romantic. They came from Charlotte and Brooklyn, West Virginia and...

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One of the dead is a father of four children, the oldest age 8. Another is remembered by his wife as quite the romantic.


They came from Charlotte and Brooklyn, West Virginia and Louisiana, and two California towns. Despite disparate backgrounds, they all were from Fort Lewis.


A hollowness was cast upon the base yesterday with the release of the names of 13 of the 14 U.S. soldiers who were among the 22 people killed during Tuesday’s suicide bombing at a U.S. military mess hall in Mosul, Iraq.


Six were members of Fort Lewis’ 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division — the Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which already had lost six members before this attack.


A community memorial service will be Wednesday at Soldiers Field House, but details were not available yesterday.


On Strykernews.com, members of the Fort Lewis community began posting memories of the fallen. Families will pull out more memories this Christmas to cope with their grief and deal with their anger.


In time, the sharp pain subsides, said Bill Harrison, a former Fort Lewis commander who served in Vietnam and now is on the Lakewood City Council.


When his trench mates died, “I thought it was the end of the world,” Harrison said. “Then you find out that life goes on and you take pride in the memory of your fellow soldiers.”


Pfc. Lionel Ayro, 22, of Jeanerette, La.


He looked forward to future in trucking

Pfc. Lionel Ayro, 22, of Jeanerette, La.


Pfc. Lionel Ayro loved video games, the outdoors and 18-wheelers.


Ayro joined the Army a few months after he graduated from high school in 2002 so he could get a college scholarship and make enough money to get into the trucking business. A toy-truck collector, Ayro had been obsessed with trucks since he was 6 years old.


A native of Jeanerette, La. — population 6,000 — Ayro spent time at the graves of his grandmother, aunt and stepmother whenever he came home on break from the military. He spent about 20 minutes at each grave, said his mother, Catherine Ayro.


He was described by his grandmother Clementine Ayro as hardworking and courteous.


“This morning, for some reason, I imagined that he was coming in through my bedroom door to wake me up, just like he used to,” she said. “It’s sort of like his shadow vanished away from me.”


Early Wednesday, Catherine Ayro was sitting on her couch watching TV. A soldier’s mom was on, talking about how relieved she was to get a call from her son after the Mosul attack.


That’s when Ayro got the knock.


“I told the little Army man, ‘Y’all not coming here to tell me about my son,’ ” she said. “The little Army man just put his head down. And I started screaming and hollering.”


Catherine Ayro said the soldiers in Iraq should all come home.


“It’s not a place where nobody should be at,” she said. “Nobody. Nobody.”


Spc. Jonathan Castro, 21, of Corona, Calif.


Always willing to get back to ranch

Spc. Jonathan Castro, 21, of Corona, Calif.

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Whenever Spc. Jonathan Castro got a break from the Army, he headed south to his family’s ranch on the outskirts of Corona, Calif. Even if it was only for a day.


Castro and his father, Jorge Castro — whom he lovingly called Papito — shared a love for riding Paso Fino horses, driving pickups and dinking around in the shop.


“He was always driving miles and hours to California to see them whenever he could,” remembered Shiban Williamson of Steilacoom, Pierce County, whose husband, Matthew, was Jonathan Castro’s roommate about a year ago.


To his friends, Castro was the witty one who could always stir a laugh. To his girlfriends, he was a handsome charmer who got himself out of sticky situations with a smile and a word he often used: “Whatever.”


In high school, Castro was a shop rat, building an electric guitar and a full-sized electric car by himself before his graduation in 2001. Shop teachers are talking about setting up a trust in his name for shop materials and equipment, Jorge Castro said.


Castro’s dad offered to pay his way through college, but the son refused, wanting to do it on his own.


Castro’s body was pulled from the mess hall by one of his close friends, who was standing 15 feet away when the bomb went off, his father said.


Jorge Castro said he is upset by what he considers the dishonesty of the Bush administration.


“The public-affairs people sent me a statement for me to send to the newspapers,” he said. “I threw it out. I’m not running for politician — why should I lie? He didn’t join the Army to fight tyranny, he joined the Army to go to college.”


Capt. William W. Jacobsen Jr., 31, of Charlotte, N.C.


Died on his 9th wedding anniversary

Capt. William Jacobsen Jr., 31, of Charlotte, N.C.

Capt. William W. Jacobsen Jr., a family man who always boasted about how much he loved his wife, was killed on his ninth wedding anniversary.


The day before, an excited Jacobsen borrowed a Web camera and got online to wish his wife, Riikka, a happy anniversary and wave to his four children, ages 2, 5, 6 and 8, back home in Lacey, Thurston County.


“We both said we love each other forever, I remember that,” said his wife. “We put our hands on the Web cameras trying to touch each other.”


Jacobsen met his wife while the two were serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Dallas in 1993.


He was born at Fort Bragg, N.C., the son of a retired Army lieutenant colonel. He followed his father’s footsteps and was considered a rising star.


He was a graduate of Brigham Young University’s ROTC program in 1998. Jacobsen was an infantry officer and company commander.


A marathon runner who also loved to mountain bike and scuba dive, his idea of family fun was wrestling with his children on the floor.


“Bill was doing what he wanted to do, and he is our hero,” said his father, Bill Jacobsen Sr., of Charlotte, N.C.


Staff Sgt. Robert S. Johnson, 23, of Castro Valley, Calif.


Doing “something important” was goal


Staff Sgt. Robert S. Johnson loved the military so much, it even seeped into his favorite pastimes, like playing video games.


Johnson would sit at the screen for hours, as determined to win a battle in front of the computer as he was on the front lines.


“He wanted to be somebody who did something important,” said Johnson’s cousin, Jesse Schrock, of Seaside, Calif.


Johnson was born and raised on the Monterey Peninsula in California. After he graduated from school in June 2000, he immediately enlisted in the Army and was stationed in Korea from 2002 to 2003. He loved it there and picked up some of the language, Schrock said.


Johnson then was sent to Fort Lewis before he was deployed to Iraq.


Schrock said he and his cousin were as close as brothers and used to love playing touch football whenever they saw each other. But two years ago, when Johnson returned home from Korea for a visit, Schrock didn’t want to play anymore.


“I used to be bigger than he was, but then he came back from the Army and he was ripped,” he said, laughing. “You should have seen the muscles on him.”


Staff Sgt. Julian S. Melo, 47, of Brooklyn, N.Y.


Wife: “He loved being a soldier”

Staff Sgt. Julian S. Melo, 47, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Staff Sgt. Julian Melo had a rule — no sadness or crying around him.


Even when you were down, he’d scoop you up with his energy and you’d have no choice but to laugh, said his wife, Norma Melo.


Love seemed to burst out of him, and he poured his passion into his family, friends and, most of all, his job, she said.


Melo was a military man to the bone. He grew up in Panama, fought in the Colombian army and joined the U.S. Army 12 years ago, she said. He was assigned to Fort Lewis in 1994.


“He loved being a soldier and everything that entails, even the danger,” she said.


The two met in the 1980s when both showed up at a military briefing in Panama. He mistook her for a waitress and asked her for a cup of coffee.


“I turned around and said, ‘Get your own damn coffee,’ ” she recalled. He offered her a bouquet of roses afterward. Sparks flew.


But it wasn’t until Norma moved to Germany years later that the romance took off. Julian Melo was also on assignment there. They dated for six months and married in 1994.


Norma Melo spoke to her husband for the last time on Monday. He joked with her, reminded her to take care of his truck and wished her a great Christmas. He said he would call her on Christmas Day.


Staff Sgt. Darren D. VanKomen, 33, of Bluefield, W.Va.


A tough soldier, but “very romantic”

Staff Sgt. Darren D. VanKomen, 33, of Bluefield, W.Va.

Staff Sgt. Darren D. VanKomen had a reputation as a tough soldier who never blinked, even when mortar rounds went off near his compound. But to his family, he was a teddy bear who proposed marriage on a first date.


VanKomen, 33, organized “computer dates” in which he instant-messaged his wife, Stephanie, from Iraq to Olympia every Tuesday and Thursday.


“He was a great, loving father, a wonderful husband, a dedicated soldier and he was very romantic,” said his wife of nine years.


VanKomen grew up in the Lewiston, Idaho, area and was described by family and friends as an outgoing, talented artist who enjoyed watching NASCAR, playing miniature golf and planning romantic getaways.


The youngest of eight children, VanKomen told his nervous mother before he was deployed on Sept. 30 that he “wanted to serve his country. ‘This is what I have been trained for, Mom. If I get killed, it’s God’s will,’ ” said his mother, Betty Clemens, of Orofino, Idaho.


VanKomen, who had been in the service 13 years, was in charge of ordering and distributing tools and other supplies.


He and his wife met while he was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and had been living in Olympia for about two years. It was his second marriage. Until his deployment, the couple had never been apart for more than two months.


In their last “computer date,” VanKomen wrote that he loved his wife and 12-year-old stepdaughter, Chelsea White, and that he couldn’t wait to come home.


The seven other soldiers identified yesterday as victims in Tuesday’s attack are: Spc. Thomas J. Dostie, 20, of Sommerville, Maine; Spc. Cory M. Hewitt, 26, of Stewart, Tenn.; Sgt. 1st Class Paul D. Karpowich, 30, of Bridgeport, Pa.; Spc. Nicholas C. Mason, 20, of King George, Va.; Sgt. Maj. Robert D. O’Dell, 38, of Manassas, Va.; Sgt. Lynn R. Poulin Sr., 47, of Freedom, Maine; and Spc. David A. Ruhren, 20, of Stafford, Va.


Times news researcher Gene Balk and Knight Ridder Newspapers contributed to this report. Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or
skrishnan@seattletimes.com, Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com