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Saturday, 22-Apr-2006 12:00
Fallen troops are honored
April 22,2006
The Jacksonville area has spent the past two months welcoming home thousands of Marines and sailors from the battlefields of Iraq. But not all have come home the way they planned.

The 2nd Marine Division honored those who died fighting in Iraq during a Friday memorial service at Camp Lejeune. Families and friends of the 265 fallen Marines, sailors and soldiers who served under the Division flag in Iraq between January 2005 and early March gathered to honor their loved ones at the banks of the New River. More than 80 of the fallen were stationed at Lejeune.

The families faced a solemn monument of helmets and boots, rifles and dog tags as the names of the departed warriors were read aloud, a 21-gun salute shook the sky and a pair of bugle players sounded a somber rendition of “Taps.”

Maj. Gen. Richard Huck, the division commander, spoke of the Marines as coming from every background imaginable, a representation of the best America has to offer.

“They were tall, stout, short and thin,” he told the families. “There were every color and creed. They came for many reasons, but each was a volunteer and wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves.

“On this day in history, we stand together to remember those we stood shoulder to shoulder with in Iraq,” he added. “They are gone from us now, but they will never be forgotten.”

Of the 265 men and women honored, there were 189 Marines, 70 soldiers and six sailors. While many of the honored fallen were Marines from other bases, a large number were stationed at Camp Lejeune itself — 83 Marines and sailors, according to a Daily News count.

These service members died — most in combat or from roadside bomb explosions, some in accidents — during a year when 2nd Marine Division was the primary infantry element serving under the II Marine Expeditionary Force in western Iraq. During the year, about 14,000 Marines fought for the Division in Iraq in two rotations.

Huck told the families they should be proud of their loved ones, for they were part of the “vanguard in the war on terror” and their sacrifice will always be remembered by the Marine Corps, their names added to the rolls of fallen heroes from all of American history.

“May they remain forever living in your memory,” he said. “They will in ours.”

While all of these service members had memorial services while in Iraq and private funerals in their hometowns, Friday’s service offered an opportunity for families and area Marines to join together in grief, said Cmdr. Gary Carr, a 2nd Marine Division chaplain.

“The Marine Corps wants to profess its profound sorrow in the loss of their loved ones,” Carr said. “Every Marine, sailor and solider that served this past year matters to all of us. We wanted to come together as a complete unit to remember their service and sacrifice.

“We hope to bring a little comfort and hope and help share the burden of grief.”

The assembly of families was surrounded by a formation of division Marines, standing quietly as their comrades’ names were read.

Cpl. Josh Langdon, with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, was friends with one of the fallen, Lance Cpl. Mario Castillo. They were in the same unit and served in the same platoon when they were deployed to Haiti in 2004.

“It’s kind of hard to come here and see his family and see what they are going through, but it’s also comforting,” he said after the ceremony. “Its one of those things you just have to progress through.”

Sgt. Bradley Wood, also with 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, was deployed to Iraq from August 2004 until April 2005. While he wasn’t close with any of the fallen Marines, he did have a message for their families.

“I’ll tell them their sons or daughters or whoever it was, were good people that meant good and they did good,” he said.

Navy Capt. Bryan Weaver, a division chaplain, perhaps summed up the memorial’s message best in his remarks.

“They have given us the gift of valor,” he said. “May God’s peace follow them. Rest in peace, warriors.”

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at cmazzolini@freedomenc.com or 353-1171, ext. 229.


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