Katie Soenksen—March 2010 Shipment Honoree
Katie Soenksen remembered at memorials
She reminded him of actress Jessica Biel.
And, oh, that smile.
“In my 30 years, I’ve been all over the world, seen lots of places, met lots of people,” Rowella said. “There was just something that hit me when I saw her.”
Rowella proposed to her that night. They married two weeks later, on June 23.
Soenksen, 19 and a private first class in the Army, was deployed to Iraq six days after that. Rowella, 30, and a specialist in the Army, was deployed for his second tour in Iraq during October.
They worked in the same area of the country, Rowella said. He last saw her April 30.
Then, on May 2, he heard her battle roster number called out on his radio, followed by an order for a MedEvac.
“I knew something was wrong,” he said today.
Soenksen died that day of injuries resulting from a roadside bomb explosion in west Baghdad. She is the 11th female member of the U.S. military under the age of 20 to die in Iraq.
Tonight, Rowella stood in the auditorium at Davenport North High School, greeting hundreds of people he had never met before, people who came to offer their sympathy.
He stood next to Katie’s parents, Ron and Mary Ann Soenksen, her sister, her brother and a host of other family members.
Outside the auditorium stood Tim McCoy.
He and his wife, Chris, came from Lansing, Mich., to honor Pfc. Soenksen.
Tim McCoy’s son was a member of the same military police company as Katie Soenksen.
Staff Sgt. Greg McCoy was 26 years old when he and another soldier were killed by a roadside bomb in November.
Soenksen was in a truck right behind him.
“She was there for my son’s service in Iraq,” Tim McCoy said. “We made the trip to honor her for my son. Something pulled me here. Maybe my son was pushing me here.”
McCoy stood outside the visitation, holding a large American flag for most of the afternoon. He was one of about two dozen fellow Patriot Guard Riders who stood guard.
The Riders escorted Staff Sgt. McCoy’s remains to his final resting place on their motorcycles. They will do the same today for Pfc. Soenksen.
The last time Soenksen came home, in February, she brought a video of McCoy’s memorial service in Iraq, a recording the McCoys have not seen.
Soenksen’s mom still has the video, the McCoys learned at the visitation Wednesday.
Memorial in Iraq
The memorial for Soenksen in Iraq was held Tuesday.
Pfc. James Alaimo was there. He was one of her friends in Iraq.
She was a joker, he said.
She used to set his leg hairs on fire with a lighter. She helped him party with water on his 21st birthday. Soldiers are not allowed to consume alcohol in Iraq.
“I know she’d kick me in the butt if she knew how sad I am right now, but I can’t help it,” Alaimo wrote in an e-mail. “It’s like she’s taken a piece of my heart with her, but it’s okay, ’cause mine is so much bigger for knowing her.”
Glancing sporadically at the pictures of Katie’s childhood flashing on a screen on the auditorium stage at Davenport North, Ben Rowella talked about how he enlisted in the Marines for four years.
He then spent four years managing a Taco Bell. Late at night, after closing time, he would go to eat at a café and watch the war in Iraq rage on CNN. He decided to join the Army.
Rowella will return to Fort Hood after he buries his wife today. He plans to return to Iraq eventually. His unit’s stay has been extended to January 2008.
“It’s my job. It’s my career,” he said.
Then, before going outside to take a break from the crowd, he said he will never marry again.
“She was that one special person everyone needs in their life.”
From the Quad City Times
Congressional Record > May 10, 2007
The United States House of Representative
May 10, 2007
In This Section…
Rep. Braley [D-IA]: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to celebrate the life and the memory of PFC Katie Soenksen, who graduated from Davenport North High School in 2005 and died in an explosion…
Rep. Bruce Braley [D-IA]: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to celebrate the life and the memory of PFC Katie Soenksen, who graduated from Davenport North High School in 2005 and died in an explosion on May 2 in West Baghdad, Iraq, while conducting a security mission in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Katie was a 19-year-old woman from Davenport, Iowa, who was a member of the 410th Military Police Company from Fort Hood, Texas. She left behind a loving family, including her parents, Ron and Mary Ann Soenksen, a brother, Matthew, from Davenport, and a sister, Sarah, from Blue Springs, Missouri.
Katie’s friends and family remember her as a fun-loving, energetic young woman who loved bowling, playing softball and spending time with her friends.
Mr. Speaker, as we come to the floor every day and decide important public policy issues that affect the lives of people like Katie Soenksen, I hope we all remember that this is something we are all in together, and the lives of future generations of Americans are affected by the policies that we set on this floor.
From The Washington Post 05/11/07:
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2007; A03
DAVENPORT, Iowa. May 10 — The long black hearse did not belong in the picture, parked outside Davenport North High School on a day more suited to a picnic than a wake. As students spilled into the afternoon sunshine and did a double take, a family gathered to mourn an effervescent teenager taken too soon.
Pfc. Katie M. Soenksen, a 19-year-old soldier serving with the 410th Military Police Company, died last week in a Baghdad explosion not two years after she graduated from North High. She enlisted and wrote recently that being in Iraq “makes me realize how good we have it in America.”
She was the 71st woman killed in Iraq — 45 by hostile action — and the 246th teenage soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. With women serving in combat in unprecedented numbers, the number killed in action is higher than in previous wars, roughly triple the number of female casualties in Vietnam and the Gulf War combined.
Soenksen’s death cut deeply in Iowa, which buried another 19-year-old soldier on Wednesday. In the Quad Cities, which straddle the Mississippi, 14 fighting men and women have been buried since the Iraq war began, breaking hearts and driving political attitudes.
Anger over Iraq was decisive in November, when the Democrats captured the 1st District congressional seat held by Republicans since 1978. Losing GOP candidate Mike Whalen said it was “the overwhelming issue,” a predicament all too familiar to anxious Republican moderates who warned President Bush this week that patience with the war is waning.
But the days since a homemade bomb killed Soenksen have been more about pain and hugs than politics. Support for the family has been overwhelming. Hundreds of people streamed into the high school on Wednesday, the day before her military funeral, to offer comforting words and heartfelt embraces.
As lights on a signboard flashed, “We’ll Miss You, Katie,” one administrator said the experience of burying a student who had been so vibrant and alive was “very surreal.”
When the news reached Davenport on May 2, Brandon Concannon Colter was with his best friend, Marco Torres, who had dated Soenksen for two years. They were riding bikes at the Bettendorf skate park when Torres’s cellphone rang.
“It just got kind of silent,” said Concannon Colter, 17, a senior in North High’s Junior ROTC program. “He was like, ‘I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right.’ He got off the phone and he was [teed] off and sad.
“I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘Katie died.’ It was a silent ride home.”
Concannon Colter told his parents and his sister, but Soenksen’s death did not compute.
“It was more shock than devastation. ‘They’re lying,’ ” he thought.
The next morning, when Gunnery Sgt. Greg Livingston drove into the school parking lot, his ROTC students burst from the doorway to tell him. He said it must be a bad rumor.
“I didn’t want to believe it. The kids didn’t want to believe it,” said Livingston, a Marine who oversees three platoons of ROTC students. Later that morning, confirmation arrived. He addressed the young students, telling them this was the reality of war.
“Every day,” he told them, “somebody’s dying over there for us. She was willing to stand up and do what she believed in. We should be a grateful nation for what she did. If you live the right way, the correct way, I believe we’ll all be together again.”
Students were devastated. Many cried. Just two years earlier, Soenksen was a leader in the same room. The juniors and seniors knew her. Others remembered her stopping by school when she was home on leave, proud in her Army uniform.
“I’ll always love her,” said Livingston, his eyes reddening. “You can’t forget her. She made you feel good, no matter what mood you were in. I’m a moody person, but she wasn’t like that. She set the example for others to follow.”
Monsignor James F. Parizek, who led a funeral Mass on Thursday at Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, said Soenksen could be “strong-willed and stubborn,” butting heads with people who stood in her way. She had an impulsive streak, marrying Army Spec. Benjamin Rowella, 30. It was six days before her deployment and two weeks after they met at a nightclub. At the Mass, he sat in the front pew.
Soenksen did not need to look far for military models. Her aunt, Air Force Lt. Col. Rose Ramirez, will soon complete her 34th year in uniform. She flew to Davenport with Soenksen’s remains.
Ramirez was with the family on Wednesday as an army officer presented Soenksen’s parents with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. The certificate said, “Her commitment contributed to our Nation’s continual war on terror and her actions represented her dedication to the security of the United States of America.”
Countless friends and more than a few strangers waited patiently in the North High auditorium for the chance to walk past Soenksen’s ashes and a stage full of flowers and tributes. One who had not known her was Pat Clayton, who served as an Army MP in the 1970s, shortly after the Vietnam War ended. A government employee, she is seeking work in Iraq, to help the troops.
“If you don’t feel it, you would never understand,” Clayton replied when asked why. “Just a need to go over and support ’em. God and country. That’s what it’s all about.”
Standing nearby, accepting condolences, was business teacher Jeff Manders. He coached Soenksen in basketball, soccer and softball from the time she was little. In high school, she played outfield and “had a cannon for an arm.” He adored her.
“There are special kids you always remember. She was one of those kids,” Manders said. “A fun kid. A teaser. She would tease her friends, tease her teachers, tease her coaches. Could Katie push it to the limit? Yeah, but she always had a way of coming back and making amends.”
Soenksen’s sudden death crystallized Manders’s misgivings about the war. He said it will “definitely” influence his 2008 vote.
“This one hurts. This brings the war to your front door. It’s no longer someone else’s kid from a distant place. It’s the kid next door who’s died,” said Manders. He described Iraq as “a mess.”
“How are we going to get out of it? I saw the Republican debate: ‘We can’t pick up and leave or it would be chaos.’ I understand, but what’s the tradeoff? How many American lives are we going to lose? [I] just want to get the hell out of there.”
Manders took in the auditorium that had been transformed into a funeral chapel, the line of people studying Soenksen’s cheerful portraits, the scrapbooks of photos from childhood and from war, her softball trophies, the flowers, the simple wooden box holding her ashes.
“It’s sad, but unfortunately I don’t think this is going to be the end of it, not for Iowans, not for the United States.”
Concannon Colter will turn 18 on Sept. 6. Three days later, he leaves for Marine Corps basic training and, he expects, deployment to Iraq. Since Soenksen died, his commitment to the military has grown stronger.
“It’s helping her out,” Concannon Colter said, “fighting for her cause, too.”
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling in Washington contributed to this report.