About 100 people gathered Sunday at Lake Sacajawea to honor Mikayla Bragg, the Longview soldier who died in Afghanistan in December.
"Nothing we do today can make up for the loss of a person's life," said Longview Mayor Dennis Weber at the event, where officials unveiled a plaque and a new tree to honor Mikayla.
"We stand united behind the men and women who go overseas and give the ultimate sacrifice. ... This tree represents an eternal memory for her sacrifice."
The ceremony featured the singing of the national anthem by the Mark Morris High School choir with brief comments from family, friends, people who knew her and people who knew of her.
"I hope when people walk by here and see the dates she lived they wonder what a hero really is," said Reverend Steve Myall of Longview's Breakpoint Assembly. "It's a tribute to her community. But more than anything, it's a tribute to her family."
The exact circumstances of Bragg's death continue to be cloudy.
Her family has reported that Bragg died from a gunshot wound to the head in a guard tower in a combat zone near the Pakistan border.
The Army recently listed Bragg's death as "non-hostile," a designation that means her death was not related to combat, said Major Travis Dettmer of Fort Knox, where Bragg had been based. He declined to be more specific about Bragg's case because it remains under investigation, except to say that "non-hostile" could mean the person died from an accident, self-inflicted injuries or some other cause not related to battle.
Encyclopedia.com says "non-hostile casualties are not attributable to enemy action. These occur due to an injury or death from environmental elements, disease, self-inflicted wounds, or combat fatigue."
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Daily News, the Defense Department said the investigation into Bragg's Dec. 21 death still is not complete. Attempts to obtain her autopsy report last week were not successful.
Bragg's father, Steve Bragg of Longview, said in a phone interview last week that he understands the investigation into his daughter's death is continuing, and that listing it as "non-hostile" is inappropriate until the investigation concludes.
"They have not come to a final conclusion. They don't know if it was hostile or non-hostile. They are still investigating that."
Bragg said he was expecting a small gathering at Hemlock Plaza, not the crowd that showed up.
"It shows she was loved by the community," Bragg said. "It means a lot to me. I'm overwhelmed and grateful to the city, and I'm really glad of how it turned out."
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