The News From Iraq Hits Hard at Home

Jody Davids reviews some family photos in her Dublin, Ohio, home. Her son, Marine Wesley Davids, was killed Wednesday by a roadside explosion in Iraq.
Jody Davids reviews some family photos in her Dublin, Ohio, home. Her son, Marine Wesley Davids, was killed Wednesday by a roadside explosion in Iraq. (By Gary Gardiner For The Washington Post)
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 14, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio, May 13 -- When the doorbell rang as they were fixing dinner, Jody Davids looked at her husband and knew. Only strangers used the front door. Everyone else went around to the back. She spotted three U.S. Marines in dress uniforms and felt the heartbreaking flash of intuition turning into immutable fact.

"If they're wounded, they call. If they're dead, they come to the door," Davids said Friday. "That changed our lives forever, one ring of the doorbell."

Davids is the mother of Lance Cpl. Wesley G. Davids, a Marine from Lima Company killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq on Wednesday, his 20th birthday. Other Marine delegations went to other front doors, while Chief Warrant Officer Orrin Bowman and colleagues telephoned 13 families to say their Marines had been hurt.

The Columbus-based Marine Reserve unit took two hard jolts this week during an offensive against insurgents near the Syrian border. Last Sunday, it was a firefight; on Wednesday, it was a bomb detonating beneath a crowded troop carrier. One squad from the 1st Platoon lost every member to death or injury, according to officers at the scene.

Home is where the news hits and the caskets come. It is where the mother of one Lima Company Marine wrote in an e-mail to another that her son had called from Iraq at 3 a.m. after the twin calamities: "He was crying and said 'It sucks over here' and that he was scared. (This is so out of character for him.)"

It is where another mother wrote, "I just heard on the news that Lima Company lost six Marines yesterday. Is this true? I can't stop crying. . . . What are they talking about? Please let me know what is happening."

The young warriors come from Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. They are "white-collar, blue-collar, no collar. We have college students. We have roughneck construction guys. We have business guys who have committed themselves to the Corps," said former Marine Ken Hiltz. Among them is the son of Mayor Michael B. Coleman. A patchwork of relatives, friends and colleagues has spent the week trying to reassure one another even as they have struggled to hold themselves together.

Those who lost a son are seeking meaning.

"This mission Lima Co. has been assigned is just and is one this nation must have the guts to stand up and fight for, regardless of the cost," wrote Robert H. Derga Jr., whose 24-year-old son, Cpl. Dustin A. Derga, died in the fighting last weekend. "Our combined sacrifice will make Dustin's ultimate sacrifice have real meaning. Anything less and he died in vain."

The recipient of the e-mails was Isolde Zierk, mother of platoon Sgt. Guy Zierk and leader of the Marine-sponsored band of civilian volunteers trying to keep things stitched together. Before the 150 Marines shipped out in January, her primary role was organizing the annual picnic. When she arrived home on Thursday night after a meeting at Lima Company headquarters, 29 e-mails and a dozen phone messages awaited.

Before she could change clothes, the phone rang. One call blended into another, as relatives of Marines called to question and commiserate. Isolde Zierk stayed up until 1 a.m., listening and offering what solace she could. At 8 a.m., she was back in action at a meeting of a crisis team dispatched by higher-ups at the 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment.

"Go ahead and cry," Zierk said into the phone at one point, standing in the kitchen of her clapboard rambler, the one with the Marine Corps flag flying from the front porch. She asked if the caller had a friend nearby. "Sometimes it helps if you have a shoulder. You can just cry and it comforts you."

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