MARINE CORP BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
For some families like Jary and Sheryl Kleiboeker, it had been over eight years since receiving word that their son had given his life while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. They and more than 115 families and friends of fallen Marines from 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division gathered Friday for a memorial ceremony and monument dedication.
Though most of the families had never met, their common experience could form a powerful bond, the Kleiboekers said.
“They’ve become adopted members of our own family,” Sheryl said. “You can be with them and not have to explain a shed tear or an angry outburst. These guys have been there and understand that.”
At their home in Iuka, Ill., Sheryl and her husband had reached out to others. At the memorial service they gladly offered their support to others they had met for the first time.
“One of my hopes for the event was that family members would connect with each other and the unit,” said Lt. Col. Eric Quehl, the battalion commanding officer. “That’s very important, because as they go through their stages of grief, if they feel alone at any time, they’ll know there is someone out there who is going through the exact same thing and there’s that line of support.”
During the ceremony, Marines from the battalion who had deployed with the fallen heroes hung dog tags representing each of them on the grip of a ceremonial rifle for a battlefield memorial.
After the name of each of the deceased had been called out and their tags hung, Quehl and the battalion sergeant major unveiled the monument that had been dedicated to the fallen: a bronze-cast battlefield memorial, replicating the helmet, boots and rifle where the dog tags had just been hung. It sat on a stone pedestal bearing the 26 names of each of the battalion’s troops killed during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This is where my baby lived the last four years of his life,” said Melanie Miller, the mother of Cpl. Joseph Whitehead. “It’s painful to recall the sorrow, but comforting to return to his home base.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Quehl took a few moments to talk with family members directly and thank them.
“I know your pain is inconceivable,” Quehl told the families. “But please know we all share your pain and pray for you.”