HADITHA, Iraq -- A Marine sat on a collapsible metal chair with several other warriors seated around him and stared at four sets of dog tags, combat boots, rifles and Kevlar helmets.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he slowly let his head drop into his hands. The tears fell, splashing the concrete floor.
This Marine is one of hundreds from the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment who are still mourning the loss of Staff Sgt. Jason C. Ramseyer, who was killed two weeks ago in an explosion from an improvised explosive device.
IEDs – roadside bombs used by insurgents in Iraq to target Coalition and Iraqi Forces – are the number one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count – an organization which tallies U.S. and coalition casualties based off Department of Defense press releases.
In a solemn ceremony at the Marines forward operating base here April 30, the Marines honored four more of their own killed recently during combat operations in Al Anbar Province. Among the deceased are: Sgt. Edward G. Davis, 31, of Waukegan, Ill.; Sgt Lea R. Mills, 21, of Brooksville, Fla.; and Cpl. Brandon M. Hardy, 25, of Cochranville, Pa.; who were killed April 28, 2006, when their vehicle struck and IED.
Cpl. Eric R. Lueken, 23, of Jasper, Ind., was also killed by an IED April 22, 2006.
Davis, Mills and Hardy were assigned to the Camp Pendleton, Calif. – based 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion and were attached to 3/3 for duty. Lueken was assigned to 3/3.
Individual eulogies were read for each of the fallen service members by Marines who served with them.
Many of the Marines sat stone faced and tried to hide their emotions as they reflected on the fallen’s lives.
“These Marines are not heroes because of how they died,” said 2nd Lt. Rajesh Mistry. “They are heroes because of how they lived.”
Some Marines could only offer a few words to describe their fallen comrades.
“Lueken was the kind of guy you could go to and tell how bad your day was and he would make it better,” said Cpl. William Harrison. “It was still registering to me that he is no longer with us.”
Sgt. Jim Coelho, 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion, worked very closely with Davis, Mills and Hardy.
“The Marines are not laughing and joking with each other like they usually do,” said Coelho. “We were all close; we were all brothers.”
Gunnery Sgt. Jeff Duncan was the platoon sergeant for Davis, Mills and Hardy, and recalled characteristics of each one.
“Each one of them had something different to offer the company,” said Duncan. “Davis we called ‘Manimal’ because he was always lifting weights. Mills could fix practically anything, and Hardy was a good leader who knew his job well.”
Duncan said Davis, who would have been promoted May 1, will be posthumously promoted to staff sergeant.
During the memorial, Navy Lt. Paul Tremblay led the singing of a hymn called “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” -
“Eternal Father strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bids the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep,
O hear us when we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea.
“Eternal Father grant we pray,
To all Marines both night and day,
The courage honor strength and skill,
Their land to serve the law fulfill,
Be thou the shield forevermore,
From every Peril to the Corps.”
After the playing of “Taps,” the Marines paid final respects to the fallen and left the makeshift chapel the same way they shuffled in – with solemn faces.
The battalion is scheduled to return to the United States later this Fall.