Saturday, October 03, 2009

Army Spc. Stephan L. Mace

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Stephan L. Mace, 21, of Lovettsville, Va.

Spc. Mace was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.; died Oct. 3, 2009 in Kamdesh, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his contingency outpost with small arms, rocket-propelled grenade and indirect fires. Also killed were Sgt. Justin T. Gallegos, Spc. Christopher T. Griffin, Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt, Sgt. Joshua J. Kirk, Staff Sgt. Vernon W. Martin, Sgt. Michael P. Scusa and Pfc. Kevin C. Thomson.

The Washington Post -- On a sunny day a few years ago, Stephan L. Mace, just starting high school, spent more than three hours at Arlington National Cemetery admiring the tombs and stopping at several fallen soldiers' graves.

"He was intent the whole time he was there," his grandmother, Kay Petro, remembered. Mace had asked her and his grandfather to take him on the trip. "He was so impressed. He took his time -- didn't rush. He read and looked and watched."

Monday, family and friends gathered at the cemetery to say goodbye to Mace, the 21-year-old Army specialist. He was among eight soldiers killed Oct. 3 in Kamdesh, Afghanistan, during a Taliban attack.

Mace's mother, Vanessa Adelson, sat near her son's coffin. "He had the best sense of humor," she said. "I'm told when things would get rough over there that Stephan would be the first one to make a joke to get people loosened up."

More than 100 family members and friends gathered under the sun for the burial. The chilly air carried the deep drums of the U.S. Army. Nearby, the sounds of gunshots and music from another funeral seeped into the service. Mace's was one of 30 at Arlington on Monday. He was buried in Section 60, where most veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are buried.

Mace was a member of the Army's 61st Cavalry Regiment and based at Fort Carson, in Colorado Springs. He received six medals, including a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a National Defense Service Medal.

Brig. Gen. Reuben Jones, who leads the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, presented several members of Mace's family with flags. Stephan's youngest brother, Christopher, 17, who recently completed Army basic training, will also receive a flag.

The second-eldest of four brothers, Stephan Mace grew up in Purcellville and attended LoudounValley High School. He left high school early and received a GED before joining the Army. Throughout his life, Stephan Mace played baseball, basketball and football.

"He would call and say, 'Are you coming to my games?' I don't think we ever missed a game," Petro said.

An avid outdoorsman, Stephan Mace spent his summers as a teenager hunting in South Africa with a friend. His father, Larry Mace, taught him how to shoot. The elder Mace said he also remembers teaching his son to fish and watching the young man ride a dirt bike.

Shortly before Stephan Mace reported to Fort Carson, he and his father went camping and hiking in the mountains of Colorado. After they reached 11,000 feet, it began to snow heavily, and Larry Mace had doubts about whether they would be able to achieve their goal of 14,000 feet.

"Stephan said, 'We're going.'

"He carried everything on his back, and we got there," Larry Mace said. "He was driven. That was the kind of kid that he was."

During his last visit home in March, Stephan Mace told his family that he wanted to go to college and pursue a career in government. But Mace was also eager to return to his comrades in Afghanistan, his mother said.

"He called them his family," Adelson said. "He was worried about them."

That worry remained in the moments before he died, she said. A wounded Mace gave a St. Christopher medal, which his mother had given him for protection, to the captain at his side, she said. Mace wanted the medal to go to his comrades.

To Petro, Arlington is a fitting resting place for her grandson. "He died a hero, so he should be buried as a hero, and Arlington's the place for that," Petro said. "He loved his comrades. Most people at Arlington probably had the feeling -- that love."

In a place for heroes, memories are dear:

Leesburg Today -- This week, the war in Afghanistan hit home in Loudoun. It was a somber day today for Purcellville and Loudoun Valley High School, as the news continued to spread among friends, residents and students of 21-year-old Army Specialist Stephan L. Mace's death in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed this afternoon that the Purcellville area man was among the eight soldiers killed in Saturday's heavy fighting in the Nuristan Province of Afghanistan. Mace served with the 4th Brigade Combat Team stationed at Fort Carson, CO.

Flags flew at halfstaff on all Purcellville town properties Tuesday in honor of Mace's service and Mayor Bob Lazaro said they would stay there until Mace was interred. Mace's body was returned to Dover Air Force Base Tuesday. Hall Funeral Home is handling the funeral arrangements, which have not been finalized.

Mace attended Loudoun Valley High School from 2003-2005, emerging as a junior and earning a G.E.D. This morning's Minute of Silence at the school was dedicated to the young soldier, according to Assistant Principal Sam Gross.

Mace had an affinity for the military, Gross said. "He was very passionate about it, and I have no doubt he [earned his G.E.D.] to expedite his path to the military," he said, noting that Mace lost no time in enlisting. His younger brother, Chris, has also signed up for military duty.

Mace also had a love of history, in which he excelled, Gross said. "It matched his love of the military," he said, calling a Mace well-liked and even-keeled student.

Today, two brothers who grew up with the Mace family down the street in the Kingsbridge area of Purcellville recalled Mace and his love of dirt bike riding.

The older of the two, Casey Chapman, now 25, called Mace a really outgoing person. "He loved life, he was always active and loved motocross races." Mace was always ready to compete, and was good at it. "But he was never *censored*y, Casey said.

Recalling Mace's love of sports, Casey Chapman remembered some energetic games of "roller hockey in the cul-de-sac." Eventually, the Mace family left Kingsbridge and moved out to the north of Purcellville along Rt. 690.

Casey's brother, Sam, was closer in age to Mace, being only two years older, and Casey said the two would go dirt bike riding. "Stephan looked up to [Sam] and ran around with him a lot," Casey said.

"He was our neighbor. We lived on the same street for six years, and from first to sixth grade, we grew up together," Sam recalled.

"He loved to race dirt bikes, and he was very good at it-in the top 10 in the nation," he said. "He was a good kid, very outgoing. Even when he was 8 years old, he'd go 40 miles on a dirt bike."

"He was really fun and very active," Sam Chapman said, remembering how Mace went on safari to Africa and loved exploring and finding new things.

Although Sam went to college and Mace went into the military, the two friends kept in touch. "I've known him longer than anyone else in Loudoun County. All my childhood memories are of him. We'd catch up and we'd get on the same page," Chapman said.

When Mace came home a couple of months ago, returning a few weeks ago to Afghanistan, the two talked. Before the news was confirmed this afternoon that Mace was one of the eight U.S. soldiers killed Saturday in the insurgent raid, Sam said would not be surprised to know he had been killed at that base from Mace's description.

"He said it was in a valley, on low ground, and it was a scary situation."

"I knew he didn't feel safe or confident there. He talked of being in gun battles and it was almost as if he knew it [the attack] was a big possibility."

But Mace had signed up for the army. "This is for real," he had said.

Army Spc. Stephan L. Mace was killed in action on 10/03/09.

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