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Members of 713th killed in action remembered at Valparaiso Vet Day event

WWII veteran Bryce Billings pauses durng moment silence Veterans Day ceremony Service Memorial FoundatiMeadows Valparaiso Friday Nov. 9 2012. Billings

WWII veteran Bryce Billings pauses durng a moment of silence at the Veterans Day ceremony at the Service Memorial at Foundation Meadows in Valparaiso Friday Nov. 9, 2012. Billings is a former judge and mayor of Valparaiso. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 11, 2012 6:07AM



VALPARAISO — For Staff Sgt. Kyle Leonard of the 713th Engineering Company based at the Indiana National Guard Armory, the annual Veterans Day program at Foundation Meadows took on a new meaning.

Leonard, along with Sgt. 1st Class Kirk Brownson, of the 113th Engineer Battalion, which includes the 713th, represented their unit. Its loss of six soldiers — four in January and two more in July, all in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan — served as a focal point for Friday’s service.

“This Veterans Day for me has more significance because I have to honor two in my unit and four in another,” Leonard, of Valparaiso, said. He was on the same deployment. “The loss makes me cherish when Valparaiso or any community does this. You cherish it a little bit more.”

Mayor Jon Costas told the more than 60 people gathered for the program that the city is working with the battalion for a special memorial honoring the 713th, and it will be unveiled on Memorial Day.

“It’s our way of creating a permanent monument for those who serve us with courage and distinction to protect our freedoms,” he said.

Part of the annual Veterans Day commemoration includes reading the names of local soldiers who lost their lives in combat dating back to World War I, whose names are on the Duty and Sacrifice Wall. Leonard and Brownson, also of Valparaiso, presented the names of the soldiers from the 713th who died this year.

In January, Sgt. Brian J. Leonhardt, of Merrillville; Spc. Robert J. Tauteris Jr., 44, of Hamlet; Spc. Christopher A. Patterson, 20, a Valparaiso University student from North Aurora, Ill.; and Staff Sgt. Jonathan Metzger, 32, of Indianapolis were killed in Afghanistan, and Spc. Doug Rachowicz of Hammond was severely injured.

Spc. Sergio Perez, 21, of Schererville, and Spc. Nicholas Taylor, 20, of Berne, died in July.

The January casualties were the single largest loss for the 713th and for the 113th Battalion. Leonard said he was deployed in 2005 with the full battalion, which includes the 713th and units in Gary and LaPorte, and there wasn’t a single loss of life among the more than 400 soldiers.

With only about 100 soldiers in the 713th, Leonard said, the death of six soldiers is “a big loss,” particularly because the average age in the unit is 24.

“Unfortunately,” Leonard said, “the losses make honoring a little bit stronger.”



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