MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- The brilliance of the mid-morning sun shining off the crystal blue waters provided an ideal setting for the somber, reflective mood of Marines and family members on the inlet’s grassy shores. They stared at 265 displays of rifles, boots and helmets overlooking the serene sea.
These men, women, boys and girls came from the nation’s East and West Coasts, from the plains of the Mid-West to the swamps of the South, to remember the sacrifices their loved ones had made during this past year in Iraq. The 2nd Marine Division family solemnly assembled on a grassy amphitheater here April 21 to render final honors to their Marines, sailors and soldiers who had been killed in action while fighting in the Global War on Terrorism.
The division, comprised primarily of infantrymen, tankers, artillerymen and combat engineers, was deployed to western Iraq’s still-turbulent Al Anbar province from February 2005 through February 2006. Their units operated across thousands of square miles of lush farmlands and inhospitable deserts, helping Iraqi Security Forces battle the persistent insurgency and restore the country’s broken infrastructure. Many warriors paid the ultimate price in doing so.
Cmdr. Dale White, 8th Marine Regiment’s chaplain, began the memorial service with an invocation to offer a few words of solace for the families of the fallen.
“As a division family, we remember our comrades on the battlefield,” he said. “They’re gone from us now, but they are never forgotten.”
White added that the sacrifice these men and women made was equal to that done by the great warriors of battles past.
“Throughout our nation’s history, warriors have fought and continue to fight for the things that make our nation great,” he continued. “On this day in this moment in history, we remember and honor those with whom we stood shoulder to shoulder in Iraq.”
Maj. Gen. Richard A. Huck, 2nd Marine Division’s commanding general, then took the podium to address the crowd.
“These Marines, soldiers and sailors are our friends,” Huck began. “They were high school athletes, college students, the kid next door. But they each volunteered to serve and give something bigger than themselves.
“In the great scheme of things, every one of them knew that what matters is not how long you live, but why you live, what you stand for and what you’re willing to die for,” he continued. “These men and women stood extremely tall.”
Battlefield commanders read Biblical scriptures, followed by their sergeants major calling the names of the fallen troops during the final role calls, only to be answered by silence.
This somber lull was interrupted only by the sound of seven rifles firing into the air three times, rendering a 21-gun salute as a final honor.
After the playing of taps, families and service members walked to their loved ones’ memorial. Some thumbed the dog tags hanging from the rifles’ grips; others knelt at the base of their family members’ display and rested their head atop the helmet. Still others simply stared out at the waters in quiet prayer and reflection.
The warriors who gave their all in battle are now immortalized in the memories of their loved ones and comrades-in-arms, as well as the words uttered by their commander.
“It is said that every Marine who ever lived is living still in the Marines that claim the title today,” Huck said. “This is the essence of being a Marine. May they remain forever living in your memory … they will in ours.”