Tue, Apr 13, 2004 - Page 9 News List

War deaths hit home across US as toll rises


A year after the toppling of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, or at least his statue, the jubilant jingoism that accompanied that symbolic moment has faded like an old fax, and across the US last Friday, the cost of a controversial war half a world away was starting to hit home.

Newspapers featured pictures of body-bagged US Marines on their front pages, TV news shows zoomed in on pictures of burning convoys and troops praying over their dead comrades while the families and friends of fallen soldiers granted dark media interviews that expressed their pride, their pain and their frustration with a war that is stretching the US military.

From Ford Hood in Texas to Camp Pendleton in Southern California, news reporters focused on some of the largest military bases in the US to show readers and viewers the human toll of the war in Iraq.

Fort Hood is home to the 1st Cavalry Division, and people danced in the streets when local troops found Saddam cowering in a tiny bunker in December. Now, the mood is very different. In the past few days, a number of soldiers from the base have lost their lives as Iraqi insurgents hit them with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

"These are the worst of times for a community that just a few months ago was celebrating the best," Frank Buckley, CNN's national correspondent, commented in a somber report.

A grieving mother gave an insight into her state of mind and the morale of the troops in the quagmire of Iraq.

"He knew he wasn't coming back," she sobbed of her dead son. "He warned me that he would only come back in a coffin."

In Los Angeles, the spotlight was focused on the withering casualties suffered by the Marines stationed nearby at the massive Camp Pendleton. Soldiers from the base's 4th Regiment, who call themselves "The Magnificent Bastards," are fighting at the flashpoint of the insurgency in Ramadi. Since April 4, 17 Marines from the base have been killed there, leaving Camp Pendleton in a state of shock.

The dead included a bearish former drill sergeant and rugby aficionado whom comrades called "The Beast," two young infantrymen who had vowed to help keep each other alive in Iraq and a company lieutenant who joined the Marines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Los Angeles Times noted.

It quoted a grieving mother on the worst news of all.

"I went to the door, and there were two Marines dressed in blue," she said. "I said, `No, not Ben.' They just nodded their heads. They say Marines take care of their own, and they'll be here for us, but that doesn't help when he's gone."

Although opinion polls have yet to reflect the impact of the chaos in Iraq, the toll seems evident from the Pacific coast to the heartland of America. The Chicago Tribune reported a growing sense of local disenchantment.

"We had no business being there in the first place," grumbled one man. "With 600 people killed, it's time to take everybody out."

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has long warned of the inadequacies of President George W. Bush's Iraq policy. His comments last Friday bore an unabashed tone of "I told you so" toward a president who has chosen to get away to his Texas ranch during the crisis.

"It's hard to imagine that the news out of Iraq could be more dreadful," Herbert wrote. "After the loss of at least 634 American troops and the expenditure of countless billions of dollars, we've succeeded in getting the various Iraqi factions to hate us more than they hate each other. The administration has no real plan on how to proceed."

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