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|05-29-2012, 04:58 AM||#1|
*VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff*
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Marty Robbins old hometown, Glendale Arizona--a suburb of Phoenix.
REMEMBERING, IN WHATEVER FASHION....
Yesterday, Memorial Day, shortly after 7AM I was leaving Home Depot...for you familar with Glendale AZ., the corner of 59th Ave and Peoria..traffic wasn't crowded and up ahead I saw this marine in full dress blues, walking south. I honked a couple times to get the fellows attention and pulled over to the curb..I had on my Vietnam Vet cover so the young lad immediately seemed to welcome the greeting of "Good Morning, Corporal...wanna ride"? He wasn't going far...down to the cemetery at 61st Ave and Northern..He was an Iraq veteran and was meeting a group there to honor a fallen marine interred there in the century old cemetery. Yeah, he knew well the Seabees from Iraq and promised to get in touch after entering my phone number into his device...Chief
May 28, 2012
Learning to Heal, One Memorial Day at a Time
By JAMES DAO
PFLUGERVILLE, Tex. — They had no plan, really, just memories. So after a few moments of awkward indecision, the young men ambled single file up to a simple gravestone to pay their respects. Each left behind a red or pale yellow rose, a mumbled word or a salty tear. Lance Cpl. Nickalous N. Aldrich, the stone read. Born Aug. 12, 1983, in Austin. Died Aug. 27, 2004, in Iraq.
A single Marine in dress uniform, sweating under the gauzy sun, raised his sword to his nose and said a silent prayer. Then, as everyone else turned to leave, another Marine wearing cargo shorts and a T-shirt poured the last of his Budweiser onto the grass, crushed the can and laid it beside the flowers.
Every ritual starts somewhere. And for the men of the Second Battalion, Fourth Marine Regiment, which fought in Ramadi, Iraq, this one began four years ago on Memorial Day weekend, when about a dozen veterans decided on the spur of the moment to visit the grave of one of their fallen comrades in a cemetery near Houston.
Each Memorial Day weekend since, the event has grown via word of mouth, with Marines from the 2-4, most in their 20s, coming from across the country to spend a few days together near cemeteries in places like Nashville or Indianapolis. “We decided we have to do this for everyone,” said Richard Cantu, one of the event organizers.
This weekend, about three dozen men, some bringing girlfriends and wives, gathered at a campground along the Gaudalupe River in the hill country of Texas. They spent Saturday drinking beer and whiskey late into the night and telling stories, funny ones and horrible ones.
Other units may have lost more troops over 12- or 15-month deployments, but the 2-4 is widely thought to have taken more casualties — 34 dead and more than 255 wounded — than any other American unit during a six-month tour of either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Its 2004 fighting was largely drowned out by the bigger news from nearby Fallujah, where the killing of four contractors led to all-out offensives by other Marine Corps units. As battles raged in Fallujah, drawing intensive news coverage, many insurgents were slipping into Ramadi, where on April 6 they orchestrated a stunningly well-executed ambush on the Marines from the 2-4.
Though a military official told reporters that the fighting in Ramadi was over after a few hours, it continued episodically for days, with about a dozen Marines dying and scores more wounded. The situation would calm down, but the Marines of the 2-4 never really had a peaceful day for the rest of their deployment.
Gabe Henderson, one of the Memorial Day event organizers, said members of the battalion had arrived in Iraq expecting their tour to be about “winning hearts and minds” more than combat. They took unarmored Humvees bolstered anemically with sandbags and plywood. But after coming under fire on each patrol, they welded metal bars to the windows to protect drivers from being shot in the face.
“We thought we’d be shaking hands and handing out stuff and not wearing body armor,” Mr. Henderson said. “Instead, we were in a firefight every other day.”
The first man wounded that tour was Brian McPherson, who lost much of his jaw from a roadside bomb. Today, 13 facial reconstruction operations later, he raises rodeo bulls on his farm north of Austin. He came to the Memorial Day reunion this year for the first time, coaxing his best friend from the unit, Greg Coats, to come too.
Mr. Coats had gone to work in law enforcement in Oklahoma after leaving the Marine Corps, living an adrenaline-fueled life on the edge. He has crashed his motorcycle at least half a dozen times, and for years he drank to excess, he says. He also had nightmares almost nightly about death and dying in Iraq. A few months ago, he burned his diaries and photographs from Ramadi, hoping the nightmares would stop. They did not.
“I lost some good memories,” he said of the lost photographs. The reunion helped restore a few, he said, sipping water instead of beer — an indication, his wife says, that he is healing.
Also in attendance was the family of Lance Corporal Aldrich, who died when he was struck by a Marine Corps vehicle during a lights-out night patrol in Ramadi. His mother, Jonna, a long-haul truck driver, heard the news of his death while at a truck stop in Amarillo.
Standing against a wall at that truck stop, she slumped to the ground as she was given the news by cellphone, jagged stones tearing skin from her back. Years later, during the depths of the recession, she got by financially in part because of insurance and death benefits from Nickalous, the youngest of her three children. An acquaintance told her she was lucky.
“Seriously?” Ms. Aldrich replied. “I’d rather be living on the street and have him back.”
For all the unprogrammed qualities of the weekend’s activities, the Marines of the 2-4 have begun forming a few of their own Memorial Day rites. Before visiting the cemetery on Sunday, they each autographed a black Jolly Roger flag, the unofficial banner of the 2-4, which since at least the Vietnam War has been known as “the Magnificent Bastards.” At the cemetery, they presented the folded flag to Ms. Aldrich.
At the campground, they also created a boozy memorial to Lance Corporal Alrdich: a camping chair adorned with a T-shirt bearing his photograph and empty bottles of Jameson whiskey and Smirnoff vodka.
Next to the chair, a knife with a six-inch blade had been jammed into the bark of a tree by the battalion’s former command sergeant major, James E. Booker. From it hung dog tags bearing the names of all the Marines killed in Ramadi: Pfc. Christopher D. Mabry. Staff Sgt. Allan K. Walker. Lance Cpl. Pedro Contreras. And so many others.
Steve Rubeck gently fingered the engraved names as if they were orchid petals. “This makes it all real,” he said.
This was Mr. Rubeck’s first 2-4 reunion. Hurt by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, he left the Marine Corps in 2005 and now lives in Salt Lake City, where he is an apprentice electrician. He has few friends there, he said, and talks to no one about the war. Yet rarely a day passes when he doesn’t think about the friends he lost.
“It hurts, every day,” he said.
But at this moment he was standing ankle-deep in a river among his old battalion-mates, a cold beer in his left hand, a warm one in the right. He liked this new Memorial Day tradition and was already thinking about attending next year’s reunion in Minnesota.
“This helps,” he said, sitting down in a lawn chair as the cool, replenishing waters of the Guadalupe rushed over his feet.