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‘This is hard. This is wrong. This is real’: Military honors Minn. soldiers killed in crash

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A soldier steps towards and places an item on the memorial.
Lt. Col. Kyle Liudahl places his commander's coin upon each battlefield cross at the memorial ceremony for Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Rogers Jr. of Winsted, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Nord of Perham, and Sgt. Kort Plantenberg of Avon at the North Fort Hood Chapel on Sunday. The ceremony was to honor the fallen Minnesota National Guard flight crew who tragically died in a Black Hawk helicopter crash on Thursday.
Photo courtesy of Sgt. Sydney Mariette

Updated: 7:28 p.m.

Three helmets, three rifles and three pairs of boots marked the space where the soldiers should’ve been.

At Fort Hood, National Guard members gathered Sunday to remember the three Minnesota soldiers: 30-year-old Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Nord of Perham, 28-year-old Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Rogers Jr. of Winsted, and 28-year-old Sgt. Kort Plantenberg of Avon.

They returned from a nine-month deployment to Kuwait in May and were conducting a maintenance test flight last Thursday when their helicopter crashed near St. Cloud.

“This is hard. This is wrong. This is real,” said Lt. Col. Kyle Liudahl, commander of the 2-147 Assault Helicopter Battalion, who spoke to the grieving soldiers on Sunday.

Soldiers stand in rows in front of a memorial.
Soldiers of the 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade stand to honor the three battlefield crosses displayed during the memorial ceremony at the North Fort Hood Chapel on Sunday.
Photo courtesy of Sgt. Sydney Mariette

“There is something we understand about our mission that also outsiders just can't grasp,” Liudahl told the memorial crowd. “We're banded together as friends for a purpose larger than ourselves.”

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Kahring spoke of his time with James Rogers Jr., who’d go by the nickname “Bobcat.”

Kahring said he knew Rogers would fit in with the rest of their company right away. Rogers would lift the spirits of those around him by bringing levity to the room.

“He would love to sing show tunes and come up with random jokes just to pass the time,” Kharing said.

Through a letter read at the service, 1st Lt. Aaron Johnson honored Charlie Nord, one of his closest friends.

“Charlie had a way of making every person he met feel like they're the most important person in the world,” Johnson wrote.

A soldier salutes.
Spc. Nicole Cavanaugh gives a final salute to her fallen comrades.
Photo courtesy of Sgt. Sydney Mariette

Spc. Nicole Cavanaugh spoke about Kort Plantenberg. She remembered him as a lover of the outdoors who always had something to say about a new fishing boat. He loved his work in the Guard, too.

“He loved to work on the birds and was keen on flying,” Cavanaugh said. “When his warrant officer application was accepted, it was the best day ever. You could not keep a smile off of his face.”

Funeral arrangements have been announced for the three soldiers:

  • Kort Plantenberg's funeral service is 1 p.m., Thursday, at St. John's Abbey Church in Collegeville, Minn. Visitation will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the church.

  • James Rogers Jr.’s funeral is at 1 p.m. Sunday at Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School in Howard Lake, Minn. Visitation will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday at Chilson Funeral Home in Winsted, Minn., and from noon to 1 p.m. at the high school on Sunday.

  • Charles Nord's funeral will be at 11 a.m. next Monday, Dec. 16, at Perham High School in Perham, Minn. Visitation will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday and from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday at the high school.