Family and friends of the six Fort Lewis-based Stryker soldiers who died in the mess-hall bombing in Mosul, Iraq, last week gathered here yesterday not just to honor the fallen...

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FORT LEWIS — Family and friends of the six Fort Lewis-based Stryker soldiers who died in the mess-hall bombing in Mosul, Iraq, last week gathered here yesterday not just to honor the fallen, but “to nurture those who are yet alive,” an Army chaplain said.

“Our lives today are better because we have lived among them,” the chaplain, Col. Clarke McGriff, told hundreds of friends, families and fellow soldiers who packed the Soldiers Field House.

His sentiments were echoed by the soldiers’ commanding officers and friends, who shared how their lives had been touched by each of the soldiers.

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One by one, they took turns to speak at the podium, which was flanked by each soldier’s combat boots, rifle and helmet. Those honored were:

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

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

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

• Staff Sgt. Darren VanKomen, 33, Bluefield, W. Va.

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

• Staff Sgt. Julian Melo, 47, Brooklyn, N.Y.

They were remembered as devoted soldiers and selfless friends, family men who, in some cases, put aside more lucrative careers to answer the call to service.

Johnson was one such man, said his cousin, Spc. Michael Peacock. He said Johnson could have joined the family business but instead signed up with the Army after graduating from high school because he wanted to make his mark on the world.

“Robert could make the best out of any situation,” Peacock said.

VanKomen was remembered as a consummate professional who cared for others.

“This was a man who took care of men, a friend that took care of friends, a soldier that took care of soldiers,” said Capt. Vincent Maykovich. In heaven, “if they have a supply room he is running it now, and God is in good hands,” he said.

Melo was remembered not just as an organizational genius, but as a boyish, fun-loving man often teased by colleagues about his immaculate appearance.

“He was a good man,” 1st Sgt. Charles Stanley said. “It’s important to remember his life was not lost in vain. What he did mattered.”

In his remarks about Jacobsen, Capt. David Barbuto gave one of the most emotional speeches, praising his fallen comrade as a hero, a man who always did what was right.

Tracy Johnson, left, Terfawna Watts, center, and Kathy Jeffries hold each other at the end of the memorial. All were friends of Spc. Jonathan Castro, who was killed. Tracy Johnson’s husband, Travis, was in Mosul at the time of the bombing but was unharmed.

“I would gladly trade places with Bill and have him speaking about me,” Barbuto said through tears. “He is the standard by which I will always judge my own success.”

As the service drew to a close, the strains of taps sounded an air of finality. But for many relatives and friends of the six men, their deaths still haven’t set in.

“It feels almost unreal,” said Tracy Johnson, 27, a close friend of Castro’s and an acquaintance of Ayro’s. “It’s like there’s not closure yet.”

When she first heard about the attack, she feared for the safety of her husband, Sgt. Travis Johnson, who is stationed in Mosul. She was relieved to find he wasn’t injured in the blast, but she worried about the identities of those who died.

“I knew deep down inside that it was somebody close to us.”

Jessica Blanchard: 206-464-3896 or