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Ohio Mourns Its Marines

  • Julie Grant

Communities across Ohio are in mourning. The midwestern state has been hit hard by the deaths in Iraq of 18 Marines from the same Ohio-based battalion over the last two weeks.

Even as funerals continued for the newly-fallen Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment, several thousand people gathered Monday for a public memorial in Brookpark, where the unit is headquartered. It took eight minutes to read all the names.

The battalion has suffered unusually heavy casualties: 47 Marines have been killed since March. Marla Durga's son, Dustin, died in Iraq in May. She and her husband, Bob, drove two hours to support the other families. They're not surprised to see such a huge outpouring of emotion from the community.

"I think that people feel this in their heart," she said. "I think this was an opportunity for people to come out and show it all at once. And I bet there are thousands and thousands who weren't able to come here physically who are watching this attentively on the TV. Because everywhere we go we see people who are just so supportive who really are behind our men and supportive in the loss of our son.

Bob Durga said the couple witnessed that support earlier in the day, when they attended a funeral for Christopher Lyons, one of the Marines of the 25th Regiment who was killed on July 28. "We were in the funeral procession there in Ashland, Ohio," Mr. Durga, said. "The procession went for miles. The thing that was most touching about it was the community standing on the street corner with flags for mile after mile.

That support was also in evidence Friday, just a day after the military officially announced the deaths. A noontime memorial service drew hundreds of people to a park in downtown Cleveland. Sophia Burkis and Susan Slavic both work downtown. They spent their lunch hour at the memorial.

"I just thought, just for a few moments [it would be good to] just to stop and think about the young men that are over there," Ms. Burkis said. "I just wanted to just take time out and just stop and think of nothing else just of them."

Ms. Slavic, who said she came from a military family, echoed those sentiments. "My father was in the service, my grandfather, my brother was in Vietnam. And we have to support our men, whether or not we always agree. They're fighting for our freedom so we have to back 'em."

Some families of the fallen marines say their dedication to the U.S. mission in Iraq has only strengthened since their loved ones' deaths. Tina Locklare didn't know any of the marines who were killed last week, but felt a loss and wanted to connect with others in the community. She says she supported the invasion of Iraq, but her feelings have changed, and she questions why President Bush hasn't brought the troops home. "Why is he allowing it to continue?" Ms. Locklare asks. "I mean, it's time to end it. It's time for them to come home. People are getting tired. People are really getting tired of being sad. I know I am, I'm tired of being sad. Even thought you don't know the women and men, but still, it's our people, it's our women and men."

Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has been one of most vocal opponents of the war since the beginning. But now, he says, it's time to focus on these soldiers and their loved ones. "They don't want to hear about politics right now," he says. "They want to hear did you love that soldier who gave his or her life? Do you honor their service? Do you treasure their memory? That's what we need to powerfully affirm now. "

In accordance with tradition, the fallen Marines were represented at Monday evening's ceremony by a display of empty boots, a Purple Heart medal and an inverted rifle with a helmet on top. A folded flag at the base of the memorial was given to the local commander to be flown over the Marine Center in Brookpark… a constant reminder of the human costs of war.

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