VALPARAISO | They were fathers, husbands, brothers and friends.
They were easygoing, had big smiles and were eager to lend a hand or a shoulder to cry on.
They loved God, their families and their country.
Family members and friends took turns expressing their love for and remembering seven Indiana National Guard members at a Wall of Honor Ceremony at Valparaiso University on Sunday afternoon. Six of the seven died during a 2012 deployment to Afghanistan.
Jonathan Metzger, Robert Tauteris Jr., Brian Leonhardt and Christopher Patterson were killed in a January IED explosion, while Nicholas Taylor and Sergio Perez Jr. were killed in an ambush in July.
The seventh soldier, Daniel Chavez, died in July 2008 as a result of a noncombat-related illness during a training exercise.
“Your loved ones gave all of the time of their lives for us, and for that, I thank you,” said U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville.
Family members and friends remembered each soldier at the ceremony.
Raymond Frederici, Jonathan Metzger’s uncle, recalled seeing a photograph of his nephew handing out candy to a group of Afghan children.
“Who had the biggest smile?” Frederici asked. “Jonathan. That was the type of spirit he had. Everyone loved to be around Jonathan.”
Chuck Leonhardt, Brian Leonhardt’s brother, recalled how his brother would “get down on the floor” to play with his nieces and nephews and “lift them up to the basketball hoop.”
“He wanted to be the best at everything he did,” said Leonhardt, his voice quivering. “He was proud to join – he was even more proud to wear the uniform.”
Chris Patterson, a Valparaiso University student, “always knew when I needed him,” said Mary Patterson, his mother.
Patterson said her son also would recommend Bible verses to his friends and family members who needed comfort.
“I wonder if he ever knew how much he was spreading the message and how many lives he touched,” Patterson said.
At the ceremony, the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia choir, of which Patterson was once a member, sang "America the Beautiful" and "Amazing Grace."
At the front of the Harre Union ballroom, black cloths covered seven shadow boxes resting on brass easels. As each soldier’s name was read, a color guard slowly unveiled the cloth from each shadow box, revealing a U.S. flag, the soldier’s medals and a photograph.
The shadow boxes will be displayed at the National Guard Armory at 1502 Linwood Ave. in Valparaiso.
After saying a few words about each man, Major Gen. R. Martin Umbarger, adjutant general of Indiana, said the common denominator among the men “isn’t just one trait, but many.”
“They were all heroes in every sense of the word,” Umbarger said. “We should be so very grateful.”