In Ohio, War Becomes 'a Little More Personal'
Thursday, August 4, 2005
The news reached central Ohio long before the names of the dead. A thunderous explosion, an armored vehicle blown apart, another clutch of Marine reservists from Lima Company killed in the Iraqi maelstrom.
Nine men who left behind their day jobs to report to duty with the Columbus-based fighting unit died in an insurgent bombing yesterday, bringing to 16 the number killed on its current tour.
"Every day now in Columbus it's just a little more personal," said Mike Brown, spokesman for Mayor Michael B. Coleman, whose son serves with Lima Company. "It's been a rough day with a lot of tension."
Brown spoke of recent military funerals that have been solemn, stately and all too frequent.
"Majestic," he said, "and absolutely overwhelming in sadness."
Officers at the headquarters of Lima Company, part of the 3rd Battalion of the 25th Marine Regiment, mobilized to deliver news that 150 families were praying not to hear. Marines rang doorbells and regretted to inform mothers, fathers, siblings and spouses.
"Right now, we're making notifications," 1st Sgt. James Halbig said late yesterday afternoon. He figured it was the fifth time he had been through the drill, but things blur.
"It's still pretty tough. You're the strong one," Halbig said. "You have to show the strength of the Marine Corps, while in dealing with families you have to be compassionate. You want to grab them and hug them, but at this time they just need someone to be strong for them."
Lima Company, one of the hardest-hit reserve units in a war that has claimed more than 1,800 U.S. military lives, is made up of construction workers and college students alike. The mayor, said his spokesman, was another worried parent asking whether his son had survived.
In May, a firefight in Ubaydi, near the Syrian border, killed Cpl. Dustin A. Derga and a Marine from another company. Two days later, the same squad from Lima's 1st Platoon rolled over a roadside bomb in an Amtrack troop carrier. Four Marines died, and nearly a dozen were wounded.
This week, word flowed from Iraq that five members of the 3rd Battalion, headquartered in Brook Park, Ohio, had been attacked and killed by small-arms fire. Then came yesterday's news that 14 Marines and their Iraqi interpreter died when a large bomb flipped their vehicle.
It was the deadliest roadside bombing of the Iraq war.
"That's just too much for one human being to absorb in one week," said Ken Hiltz, a police officer in Powell, Ohio, and a former Marine.
The attacks and the fatalities have come in numbers no one could have imagined when Lima Company mustered. The unit drew a particularly hard-fought slice of turf and, as one Marine mother said, "they have been involved in pretty much every mission in that part of Iraq."
"It's getting to be very tough," said Jody Davids, whose son Wesley, a Lima Company lance corporal, was killed by a roadside bomb on May 11. "It's just so concentrated in this part of Ohio."
The deaths yesterday appear likely to put Ohio behind only California and Texas among the states with the highest casualties since the war began in March 2003. Downstate, an Iraq war veteran who criticized President Bush's handling of the conflict narrowly lost a race for Congress this week after making Iraq the centerpiece of his campaign.
In a district that has gone Republican for more than 30 years, Paul Hackett, a Democrat and Marine reservist, got 48 percent of the votes, losing to Republican Jean Schmidt by about 4,000 out of 112,000 cast. He lambasted Bush for saying of Iraqi militants in July 2003, "Bring 'em on."
Lima Company supporters are counting the days until their Marines come home. Families will attend a planning session this month. Davids, who views the end of the deployment as bittersweet, is cheered by the messages that reach Ohio from the Iraqi desert.
"The dedication to the cause is something to admire," Davids said. "How proud we are of these young men, and what they continue to do and what they stand for."