They took their places on the parade ground at sunset, waiting in total silence for the ceremony to begin, as the color of the mountains in the distance dropped slowly from pale violet to deep indigo.

There were the Army Special Operations aviators -- "Night Stalkers" -- in crew cuts and jumpsuits, members of an elite helicopter crew who fly commandos behind enemy lines. There were Special Operations ground forces from the United States, Britain, France and Germany, all sporting the shaggy beards they grow to blend in among Afghans.

And, at the very front, beside the flags flying at half-staff, were nearly 100 SEALs -- shorthand for the Navy's Sea, Air, and Land units -- who had come to bid farewell to 11 of their own, killed on June 28.

For this tightly knit fraternity -- the smallest of military's Special Operations units -- the loss of even one seaman would have reverberated like a death in the family.

But on Wednesday evening they were there to commemorate the deadliest day in the SEALs' four-decade history. Three of the SEALs killed were members of a four-man reconnaissance team that came under fire from insurgents in the mountains of northeastern Konar province. Only one of them survived.

The other eight SEALs were on a helicopter that was shot down, apparently with a rocket-propelled grenade, on a mission to rescue the pinned-down reconnaissance team. Eight Night Stalkers aboard were killed as well.

"Our hearts are heavy with grief and the overwhelming sense of complete loss," said Col. Pat Higgins, commander of Special Operations forces in Afghanistan, as many of the tough-looking men before him wiped tears from their eyes. "No words of mine can adequately express the sorrow we feel at the loss of so many."

Beyond the confines of Camp Vance, the Special Operations center at Bagram air base, 35 miles north of the capital, the counterinsurgency continued unabated Wednesday.

The hunt continued for four Arab prisoners who escaped from the U.S. prison here on Monday, and 19 insurgents were killed in southern Zabol province, U.S. military officials said.

In Helmand province, a pro-government cleric, Saleh Mohammed, was killed in the fourth such assassination since the spring.

During the ceremony, Chief Petty Officer Jacques J. Fontan, 36, of New Orleans, was remembered for "his uncanny ability to regurgitate some odd sports statistic."

Lt. Michael M. McGreevy Jr., 30, of Portville, N.Y., was noted for "his wide smile when he talked of his little girl Molly" and his quirky but endearing cry of "Hoody-hoo!"

Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., made a point of speaking to his wife for at least an hour on the phone every day.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel R. Healy, 36, of Exeter, N.H., used to force his brothers in arms to listen to Neil Diamond songs on long road trips.

Many of the stories told celebrated the independence and strength on which the SEALs pride themselves. One speaker described how Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny P. Dietz, 25, of Littleton, Colo., who had a fascination with knives, unthinkingly stashed a few in his carry-on luggage when he had to fly on a commercial flight after a training mission.

Dietz was given a court summons, but according to the story, his attorney persuaded the district attorney to drop the charges on the grounds that "he didn't need weapons because he was a Navy SEAL and could kill a man with his pinky."

Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh, 28, of Deerfield Beach, Fla., apparently loved to modify and experiment with his gear, sometimes with dangerous results -- as when a neck ring he put on his diving gear nearly caused him to drown.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matthew G. Axelson, 29, of Cupertino, Calif., was admiringly dubbed "Cool Hand Luke" and "the iceman" for his ability to remain calm and even soothing under fire.

Just as important, the speakers said, was the sense of camaraderie among the SEALs.

Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffery A. Lucas, 33, of Corbett, Ore., often engaged in "hilarious antics" to make his fellow seamen laugh. Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffrey S. Taylor, 30, of Midway, W.Va., offered fatherly guidance.

Lt. Cmdr. Erik S. Kristensen, 33, of San Diego, the senior ranking member of the SEAL team, put his team at ease with his informal demeanor. Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Shane Patton, of Boulder City, Nev., was only 22, the youngest member of the group.

Over and over, speakers stressed that the men had died doing what they loved, that each had chosen to be there.

"They knew the danger they faced and they faced it anyway," Higgins said.