Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sgt. Andrew Perkins remembered at Fort Bragg

All-American Week returns as 82nd Airborne mourns
By KEVIN MAURER | Associated Press Writer
2:07 PM EDT, May 21, 2008

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The return of the steady tromp of 16,000 jogging soldiers this week means the rhythm of life is right again at Fort Bragg, home to the Army's storied 82nd Airborne Division.

All-American Week is back at the base, a renewal of the 82nd's traditional homecoming that was canceled last year because the entire division was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The celebration also provides a balm this year, which follows a particularly tough one for the division -- the 82nd lost 87 paratroopers in 2007. About 150 members of "Gold Star" families, relatives of those killed, are to join President Bush on Thursday for the division's review ceremony and a rededication of a growing granite memorial to the 82nd's fallen.

Among those to be remembered is Andrew Perkins, a 27-year-old sergeant whose father clings to the stories of his son's heroism in Samarra, north of Baghdad. How he grabbed the fire extinguisher. How he rushed into the explosion three times. How the equipment was melting in his hands before a second blast hit.

"I'd go to Samarra if I could just to stand on the same ground," Walter Perkins said.

He has come instead to Fort Bragg, to stand among the dozens of other fathers without sons, wives without husbands, children without parents.

"Did I come here to get some closure? Yep. Am I getting it? Yep. And it surprises me how easy it is coming to me," Perkins said. "It helps that I am talking to guys who knew him."

The 82nd Airborne's 87 fatalities last year are more than in any other year since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began. Three separate times in Iraq last year, seven or more paratroopers were killed at once. Sgt. Andrew Perkins died March 5 with six others outside of Samarra.

The paratroopers were on patrol when their lead truck hit a roadside bomb. The blast killed four of the paratroopers almost instantly. Perkins and two other paratroopers searched the flaming wreckage for survivors, a second bomb detonated -- killing them and wounding several others.
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