RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – In a somber ceremony, an Army, Navy and Air Force honor guard met the remains of seven American servicemen Tuesday after their caskets were transported from Afghanistan to a U.S. air base in Germany for transfer to the United States.
Chaplains read psalms over the servicemen, who were killed in fierce fighting in eastern Afghanistan Monday.
A C-17 transport jet bearing their bodies landed under overcast skies in the late afternoon at Ramstein Air Base. Four chaplains boarded the plane — the same type used to drop humanitarian aid over Afghanistan in the early stages of the operation — and performed short ceremonies, reading psalms they had chosen for the occasion.
The honor guard then slowly carried the flag-draped caskets to black hearses waiting near the plane. The bodies were then individually driven to a larger C-5 transport jet waiting to take them back to the United States.
Eight Americans have died and 40 have been wounded so far in Operation Anaconda, one of the fiercest battles of the Afghan campaign.
Chief Warrant Officer Stanley L. Harriman, 34, of Wade, N.C., was killed when the assault began Saturday. His body had been transported to Ramstein prior to Tuesday.
The seven Americans whose caskets were taken to Ramstein Tuesday died the day before as two helicopters came under fire in Afghanistan. They were identified as:
• Sgt. Bradley S. Crose, 27, of Orange Park, Fla.
• Sgt. Philip J. Svitak, 31, of Joplin, Mo.
• Spc. Marc A. Anderson, 30, of Brandon, Fla.
• Pfc. Matthew A. Commons, 21, of Boulder City, Nev.
• Aviation Boatswain's Mate-Handling Petty Officer 1st Class Neil C. Roberts, 32, of Woodland, Calif.
• Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, 36, of Waco, Texas
• Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, 26, of Camarillo, Calif.
In Washington, the Pentagon said the seven servicemen were killed as troops were being taken into the battle area on two different missions.
One incident happened early Monday morning south of the town of Gardez when a two-helicopter team was ferrying in reconnaissance troops and one was hit by enemy fire, said Brig Gen. John W. Rosa Jr., deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
One person fell out from his helicopter and later died, Rosa said.
The second happened three hours later and a distance away during a separate two-helicopter mission to bring special forces into the battle area. Once on the ground, those forces got into a firefight in which at least 11 were wounded and six died.
At least one other helicopter performed a rescue mission hours later to bring out the dead and wounded, but exact details were still unclear.
President Bush said the deaths made him more determined to wipe out Al Qaeda.
"We send our prayers and tears to those whose families have lost life," the president told students and educators at Eden Prairie High School near Minneapolis.
"But I want to assure the students who are here and the loved ones of those military [servicemen], defending freedom is a noble cause and it is a just cause," the president said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.