FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – A day before the funeral Mass for one parishioner killed in Iraq, the congregation at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church (search) prayed Sunday for 17 other soldiers in the same division killed in the crash of two Black Hawk helicopters.
The deaths Saturday marked the largest single loss of life for the 101st Airborne Division (search) since 1988, when 17 soldiers died in the collision of two Black Hawk helicopters during training.
"What I see here is deep concern and I see fear. I see the unknown and I see people turning to one another," the Rev. Carl McCarthy said after Mass at the church in Hopkinsville, 15 miles north of Fort Campbell (search).
Among those killed Saturday was Army Spc. William D. Dusenbery, a helicopter crew member from Fairview Heights, Ill.
"It was like he lived to be around the aircraft," said Jessica Wheat, who planned to marry Dusenbery and lives in Illinois with his parents. "The Black Hawk and other aircraft, it was like they were a part of that man like his left arm."
Fort Campbell, a close-knit patriotic military community on the Kentucky-Tennessee line, has lost 53 soldiers in the Iraq war, all but two from the 101st. In addition, 16 soldiers from two special forces units also based at the post have been killed since Sept. 11, 2001, fighting in Afghanistan and the Philippines.
"There are too many of them dying right now," said Robert Lambert, 50, a local truck driver whose son is in Iraq serving with a Fort Carson-based unit. Lambert said the news is difficult to bear.
"A lot of times, I just don't want to listen to it any more," he said.
Like Lambert, some are speaking out in frustration against the war, comparing it to Vietnam, where more than 3,000 101st soldiers died. Others say they fully support the war and denounce its opponents.
Pete Milbauer, 64, an usher at Sts. Peter and Paul who served four tours in Vietnam, said the deaths are a difficult, but inevitable part of war.
"You're there for a purpose and that happens when you fight a war," Milbauer said.
He said he chastised his sister for opposing the war in Iraq, saying it was bad for troop morale and bad for the country.
"When I came back home, we were treated like dirt. You didn't want to wear a uniform, and that's just left a bitter taste in my mouth," he said.
The 20,000-plus strong 101st is not expected to return until February, one year after it left. The yellow ribbons lining the light posts on the Kentucky road leading to Fort Campbell are now shredded and weathered.
On Monday, a funeral Mass is planned for Chief Warrant Officer 3 Kyran Kennedy, a member of the church killed Nov. 7.
"I personally wish they'd come home and that the war would end," McCarthy said.
In addition to Dusenbery, 30, the Department of Defense identified four others of the 17 killed on Saturday as Sgt. Michael D. Acklin II, 25, of Louisville, Ky.; Spc. Ryan T. Baker, 24, of Brown Mills, N.J.; Sgt. Warren S. Hansen, 36, of Clintonville, Wis.; and Spc. Eugene A. Uhl III, 21, of Amherst, Wis.
The Rev. Vilas Mazemke, Hansen's hometown pastor, said the soldier's father died in the military, although he didn't know the specifics. Hansen, whose stepfather was a Marine, always wanted to join the military, Mazemke said.
"That's what he wanted to be ever since he was a little guy," Mazemke said.
Uhl would have celebrated his 22nd birthday on Thanksgiving, said his mother, Joan Uhl. He followed his father and grandfather into the military, his mother said. His father fought in Vietnam, and his grandfather served in World War II and the Korean War.
"He was proud to be there [in Iraq], proud to be defending the country," Joan Uhl said.
The remaining victims will be named pending notification of family, officials said.