Jason Mileo fought his way through Basra, Nasiriyah and Kut and made it into Baghdad, where he borrowed a reporter's satellite phone. He left a message for his parents. Told them he loved them. That he was watching Saddam Hussein's statue fall. He was seeing history.
Krisna Nachampassak called to say they were being bombed, which made his wife even more scared. He said he was worried about his family if something should happen to him. He and three other Marines drowned after their Humvee tipped over into a canal. Sometimes, they say, the patrols turn off their lights and use night-vision goggles to avoid being seen. Marines often complain that the goggles throw off their perception.
Robert Arciola grieves for his son, Army Pfc. Michael Anthony Arciola of Elmsford, N.Y., who was killed in Iraq. Alexandra Kovach, the fiancee of Michael Arciola's brother, and Pfc. Oscar Olguin also attended the burial last week at Arlington National Cemetery.
(Lucian Perkins -- The Washington Post)
Jack "Jay" Bryant Jr. sang in the choir, had a bounce in his step and chose the Army because he was not ready for college. When he called home, he begged his parents not to worry, telling them he was "immortal," his father said. Isn't that what you think when you are 23?
It was just a quick call, the last one Christopher Weaver made home. Told his mother he was okay, had been out in the field. But didn't want to get into all of that. Wanted to know mostly about Christmas. He missed being there. He had been living near a dam by the Euphrates River, sweeping for road mines and searching for insurgent weapons.
Two hours after calling his mom at the family dairy farm in Virginia, Jason Redifer was killed. He was 19 and a "good, old-fashioned patriot." In his high school yearbook, he quoted John F. Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you."
Jeffrey Kaylor told his family about living in the desert as a soldier. Couldn't jog at night because "the local snakes like to come out" and he had had to escape "pit vipers." In September, he wrote: "It's cool outside and you can see every star in the sky. It's so clear that you can even see the Milky Way."
George Mitchell wrote to his wife, according to the Columbus Dispatch: "If my fate is not to come back, I want you to go on with your life. I am now in my mode of focusing on what is to be my fate as a soldier. I am more ready than ever knowing that you are there and the children, they are what is going to pull me through." He was killed by a rocket 30 minutes after getting off the phone with his wife.
Binh Le's father had served in the South Vietnamese army. Binh had "that kind of blood." When he told his family he was leaving for Iraq, his uncle said: "He said if he don't do it, no one [would] do it," the uncle said. The last time they spoke, he said he was tired of military food. Wanted some Vietnamese-style meatballs. His uncle promised to send him the spices. Just before they hung up, his uncle told him to keep his head down. "Yeah," he replied. "We'll do that."
Sometimes what comes to mind is the way the words they said were arranged just before they left. The promises just as clear as the pillows on the sofa where they sat.
James Pettaway Jr. was good-looking, loved expensive suits and Kangol caps. Played jazz, hip-hop and R&B as he drove his shiny, black Ford Expedition. Before he shipped out for a second tour, he asked his aunt and uncle to meet him at the airport when he came back, no matter what. James lived with his aunt after his divorce. She remembered him saying Iraq was extremely dangerous, and he didn't think the troops were getting adequate support from the government, felt it was skimping on equipment. He told them he didn't want to go back.
His grandmother called Frank Rivers Jr. a church boy. Before he left for Iraq, he sat down with her. Said he was going to "be all right." Of course, she was leery. Then when he got there, he made all sorts of friends. He sent photos from Iraq, posing with his buddies, smiling. She used to watch the news every day, not really looking for him, not really, really worrying. But when she heard those boots at the door, she went "berserk." Said: "He didn't even get to live his life."
Sometimes what is remembered is the sacrifice, what they and their families gave up in the war. Doing something so someone else might live, doing their duty -- some out there day after day, on the front lines. What made them heroes?
Kendall Waters-Bey was the 29-year-old Marine who was killed on the first day of the war. His father held his son's photo up to a camera and told a Baltimore television station: "I want President Bush to get a good look at this, a real good look here. This is the only son I had, the only son."
Back in Cumberland, Md., Brandon Davis was the class cut-up, suspended once for going in drag to his eighth-grade dance. He called home and told his grandmother he could hear bullets whizzing by and bombs exploding, but he told her: "Maw-maw, it's not bad over here. It's just like living with another family." He had a chance to return on a home leave, but he gave it up for a friend. He died when his Army vehicle drove over a bomb near Fallujah.
Jeffrey Graham was on a foot patrol outside Baghdad when he spotted an explosive device taped to a guardrail. He warned his platoon that it was a bomb. Seconds later, it exploded, killing him, another soldier and two Iraqis. At his funeral, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, people were given a copy of the soldiers' creed: "I will always place the mission first. I will never accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade."
For Father's Day, Nathaniel Nyren's daughter bought him a teddy bear and shipped it to Iraq with words recorded on it. It would say: "You're the best daddy in the world. I love you." When he called home on Christmas, he was cheerful, looking forward to his tour ending.