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Soldier Famous for Draping US Flag Over Saddam Statue, Returns Home as Local Hero - 2003-07-10

Sergeant Edward Chin captured the world's attention on April 9 when he helped Baghdad residents topple a statue of Saddam Hussein. Now this son of immigrants is the toast of New York, throwing out the first ball at a Mets baseball game this week and honored with a 4th of July parade in Chinatown.

Edward Chin is a Brooklyn native who saw himself as an ordinary soldier. And he was. Until April 9, when he climbed atop a 12-meter statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad and placed an American flag across the dictator's face.

The move was controversial. Within minutes, Sergeant Chin replaced the American flag with a pre-Gulf war Iraqi banner.

Soon, with the help of Iraqis and Americans, the statue in Paradise Square came toppling down.

When he came home a few weeks later, Sergeant Chin was shocked to discover he had become a local hero.

"During the time I was doing it, I didn't think anything of it until afterwards, until the media and everyone came around," he said. "I guess it was pretty big deal to everybody."

Sergeant Chin was born in New York City 23 years ago, the son of immigrants from Burma. He joined the Marines in 1999 and was assigned to the 1st Tank Battalion, where he became a tank mechanic. Last January, he was sent to Kuwait, and then his battalion moved into to Iraq.

The war was 21 days old when U.S.-forces took control of Baghdad and the Saddam Hussein statue fell. That day, April 9, came to symbolize the end of the Iraqi regime.

Sergeant Chin says he didn't intend to take such a public role. It was just a small moment that became big.

"We were in the square. Iraqis were trying to take it down themselves and they couldn't do it," he said. "They just asked us for help and we provided it, like we've been doing the whole time during the war."

Sergeant Chin remembers having little time to think, except to hope that the fall of the statue would come to signify something greater for he and his fellow soldiers.

"Hopefully this marks the end of the war, close to the end of the war so we could all get back home to our families," he said.

Sergeant Chin is getting used to his celebrity status, and is taking full advantage of life. He married his fiancée, Anna, on June 7. He was a guest of honor at the 4th of July parade in New York's Chinatown. On July 9, Sergeant Chin had the distinct privilege of tossing the first baseball of the game at the Mets' Shea Stadium.

Sergeant Chin is looking forward to a calmer future. His tour of duty as a Marine ends this August 11. After that, he plans to enroll in college to earn a degree in architecture.