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Iraq War Casualties Remembered at Illinois Memorial

The legacy of the war in Iraq, one of the longest conflicts fought by the U.S. military, has yet to be measured. The cost of that war is visible at a memorial in the midwestern state of Illinois.

To say that retired laborer Mike Farrare is patriotic is somewhat of an understatement. His nickname, after all, is inspired by the war-fighting movie character Rambo.

“One guy told me if they cut me I’d bleed red, white and blue - it’s just the way I am," said the memorial volunteer. "It’s a name I’ve had for about 20 years now. Most people don’t know my real name. They just call me Rambo.”

Volunteering for his country

In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001, Farrare wanted to contribute in some way to the fight against terrorism. Then, in 2003, he heard volunteers were building a memorial near his home in Illinois that would honor U.S. military personnel who died in the Middle East.

“I came over to volunteer because it was my way of fighting terror because I was too old to go into the military at that time,” he said.

Farrare helped build what is now one of the most extensive memorials honoring those who died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois lists the names of more than 6,000 men and women who served in the Middle East since 1979, and died in the line of duty.

Paying the ultimate price

More than three-fourths of the names are casualties of the nine-year-long Iraq war.

“Rule number one of war is that young men die, and there is no way to change that rule,” said Farrare.

It is a rule that Farrare's son, Matt, knows well. He served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Army, including a stint in Baghdad in 2006 at the height of a bloody insurgency. Now, when he visits the memorial, three names on the wall have special meaning.

“Caleb Lufkin, Gavin Reinke, Bryan Quinton. We were all in the same platoon,” said Matt.

All three of Farrare’s close friends died from wounds they sustained in a bomb blast while on patrol in Baghdad.

Honoring those who served

Despite the loss, Matt Farrare says he has no regrets about his service in Iraq.

“There’s not a part of me that asks was it worth it, because I know in my mind and in my heart that when I went in, I did it of my own free will," he said. “Do I think that it’s a good thing we are out of there? Absolutely. Did it take too long? Definitely. Is anybody to blame for it? Not at all.”

Though the Iraq War is over, Mike Farrare says some battles continue for his son.

“He’ll live with the mental anguish of losing his friends and fellow soldiers for the rest of his life,” he said.

But Matt Farrare has his father, also a veteran, and a community around him that are committed to helping heal his war wounds - both visible and hidden - while remembering those soldiers whose names are listed on this riverside memorial.

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    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.