Pvt. Timothy Ashcraft loved fishing and skateboarding and wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, uncle and great uncle by serving in the U.S. military.
Pvt. Ethan Shrader collected baseball cards and soccer memorabilia, read his Bible every night and, since he was a little boy, always wanted to become an American soldier.
As their names were called Tuesday in a final roll call at Fort Jackson, only silence answered, punctuated by the sound of soft sobs in the chapel where their families and fellow soldiers gathered in their memory.
Ashcraft and Shrader, 18 and 19 years old, respectively, were killed Oct. 6 at Fort Jackson when a military vehicle drove into a troop formation in a collision that also injured six other soldiers in training. The crash remains under investigation by the Army.
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When Army recruits arrive at Fort Jackson, “we ask them if soldiers from the past who have defended this nation for 242 years could see them, would they be proud?” said Lt. Col. Jason Pieri, commander of Ashcraft and Shrader’s 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry. “We ask them if their families and the American people could see them, would they be proud?
“...Let there be no doubt that Tim Ashcraft and Ethan Shrader both made us proud,” Pieri said.
Ashcraft and Shrader both enlisted in the Army only a few weeks ago, in September. Fort Jackson is the Army’s largest basic training base, and Ashcraft and Shrader were among up to 50,000 soldiers who receive basic training there each year.
Pvt. Jarret Honner shared his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, with Ashcraft. They became members of Echo Company at Fort Jackson.
He remembered seeing his friend “push himself to his physical limit, and then I saw him go further.”
“The drive and determination he had left a definite impression on those around him,” Honner said.
Pvt. Darren Sikes did physical training next to Shrader each morning, and slept in a bed beside him each night.
“He never talked about himself, but instead invested so much time in getting to know his battle buddies and making sure they were all right,” Sikes said. “Simply knowing that he had raised his right hand and swore to protect his country proved that he put the safety and well-being of others before himself.”
After the final roll call and the playing of Taps, Honner and Sikes stood at the chapel’s altar before the portraits of their buddies.
They knelt before them then stood, raising a slow, final salute.