The House and Senate commended the more than 20 Utah service members who lost their lives during the past year, and honored their family members in each of the chambers Friday.
At least 65 surviving family members filled the House floor, snaking between lawmakers' desks to make enough room. Honoring fallen soldiers is an annual tradition for the Legislature, but Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, pointed out that the number of fallen soldiers is unusually high this year.
"They're standing in places they haven't before because we have more than we've had before," he said while introducing the family members. Wilcox reiterated that American freedom comes at a price, and "that price is often paid by young men and women."
"We want you to know today that we recognize that it is your sacrifice that allows us to be free," he said. "We appreciate your service, and of course, the sacrifice of your family on our behalf."
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said the Legislature isn't constitutionally obligated to honor fallen soldiers, but it's "one of the most important things that I think we do each year."
Before observing a moment of silence, the House clerk read a citation presented to each of the families, commending each of the soldiers as examples of dedicated service members "who selflessly put themselves in harm's way" for the greater good of Utah.
After the families left the House floor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said he questioned why the number of fallen soldiers was so high this year, when America is not engaged in active combat on a regular basis.
"So I asked the sponsor at the time, and he said they're almost all suicides," Eliason said. He said the U.S. lost twice as many Vietnam War veterans to suicide after the war than were killed in combat, a sobering reminder of the importance of mental health care for veterans.
Sen. John Johnson, R-North Ogden, welcomed the families to the Senate floor, acknowledging that words can only do so much for those who have lost loved ones.
"It's really hard to say anything that would be totally meaningful to these people," Johnson said.
He spoke of the lasting power of President Abraham Lincoln's address at the cemetery at Gettysburg.
"Since that moment, since Gettysburg, few other such addresses have become part of our national heritage," Johnson continued. "Not because of the inadequacy of the speakers, but because of the inadequacy of words."
Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, echoed Johnson's sentiment.
"You're right, Sen. Johnson, words are insufficient," he said. "We can't express our gratitude enough for the sacrifice of not only those who have passed, but for the family members who are here. We want you to know we love you."
These are the names of the fallen soldiers honored in the Utah Legislature Friday:
- Army Cpt. Curtis Baker
- Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. Clemente Bellah
- Army Spc. Rylee Bott
- Army Spc. Nolton Bowsley
- Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. Charles Brown
- Utah Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Michael Carpenter
- Navy Midshipman 1st Class Taylor Connors
- Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. John Cooper III
- Marine Corps Cpl. Trenton Chase Franson
- Utah National Guard Sgt. Erik Hicken
- Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Natasha Huffman
- Utah Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Burton Juengel
- Air Force Tech. Sgt. Cody Kassebaum
- Marine Corps Pfc. Caelan Lewis
- Utah National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Keith Liebert
- Navy Lt. Jodi McEvoy
- Utah National Guard Master Sgt. Drew Measels
- Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 David Preston
- Utah National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jared Puffer
- Utah National Guard Staff Sgt. Kyle Walker
- Utah National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Michael Wolverton
- Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Wyatt