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U.S. Military Deaths Surpass The 1,000 Mark Soldiers Say Death Toll Meaningless
U.S. Military Deaths Surpass The 1,000 Mark
By Sharon Cohen and Pauline Arrillaga The Associated Press
September 8, 2004
Their faces, smiling or solemn, have become all too familiar in our newspapers and on television. Their names sound a somber roll call -- Smith, Falaniko, Ramos, Lee -- a roster that seems to grow daily.
U.S. military deaths in the Iraq campaign passed 1,000 on Tuesday.
The troops who have died are sons and daughters from city streets and rural hamlets. They are teens who went from senior proms to boot camp and battle, and middle-aged family men who put aside retirement and grandchildren for the dangers of a war zone.
What they share is they will not see home again.
What does the number mean? On D-Day, more Americans lost their lives. At the peak of Vietnam, hundreds of U.S. troops were dying each week. And in one September morning three years ago, 2,792 people perished when two towers crumbled in New York.
Still, 1,000 is a grim milestone.
The conflict in Iraq has claimed almost three times the number of Americans lost in the Persian Gulf War. And this time, the vast majority of U.S. deaths -- all but 138 -- came after major combat operations were declared over. "Mission Accomplished," read a banner on the aircraft carrier where President Bush spoke on May 1, 2003.
Sixteen months later, the fighting goes on. So do the funerals.
The lengthening casualty roster reflects a front line that shifted from sandy deserts to shadowy streets, a stubborn insurgency, a conflict bloodier than many expected.
Back home, there is another growing count: Towns that lost future firefighters and police officers, churches left without Sunday school teachers, families where infants will never meet a parent.
"It's almost like losing a community," says Luis Pizzini, an educator in San Diego, Texas. Two of his former students died in Iraq.
Ruben Valdez and Jose Amancio Perez grew up on the same block. Valdez, 21, was a Marine. Perez, 22, chose the Army. In their little community of fewer than 5,000, townsfolk twice lined the road to pay tribute as a hearse carried a native son home.
Now, the two are buried a few feet apart.
A U.S. CROSS-SECTION
The fallen are an American mosaic.
The youngest was 18. The oldest, 59. More than half had not seen their 30th birthday, according to an Associated Press analysis of Department of Defense statistics for those who died since the war started on March 19, 2003.
The number of troops who have died reached 998 on Tuesday; three civilians working for the Pentagon were also killed in the war.
The tally was compiled by AP based on Pentagon records, AP reporting from Iraq and reports from soldiers' families. About 7,000 other Americans have been wounded.
Of those who have died, 97 percent were men; about two dozen were women. While more than 600 were white, others were black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian -- including the first Indian woman killed in combat while fighting for the U.S. military and a Cheyenne River Sioux who traced his ancestry to two great chiefs, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.
They represented U.S. territories: American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
More than three dozen were born in foreign countries, including Thailand, India, Albania, Poland, Nicaragua, Colombia, and the United Arab Emirates, but ended up fighting for a nation they embraced as their own.
While many had been naturalized, at least 10 died reaching for their vision of the American dream: to become U.S. citizens.
Army Pfc. Diego Rincon, a native of Colombia, was among them.
After he was killed in a suicide bombing, his father, Jorge, lobbied Congress, which passed legislation giving posthumous citizenship to his 19-year-old son and other foreign-born soldiers killed in battle.
Jose Gutierrez grew up an orphan in Guatemala, rode railcars to California, crossed the border illegally, obtained a visa and graduated from high school, then joined the Marines. At age 28, the lance corporal was buried in his native land, an American flag covering his casket.
In a poem called Letter to God, Gutierrez once wrote: "Thank you for permitting me to live another year. Thank you for what I have, for the type of person I am, for my dreams that don't die."
Those who died were as different as they were the same: Homecoming kings and class presidents, Scout leaders and Little League coaches. A young man from the projects who put a hip-hop beat to Amazing Grace on the bus to church camp. A lawyer fascinated with tanks. An Army specialist nicknamed "Ketchup" who would sneak food to Iraqi children. A National Guardsman who once dyed his hair blue and red for an Independence Day parade.
There was Trevor Spink, 36, a staff sergeant in his third tour in Iraq. His steady, confident gaze was once the face on Marine recruitment posters. Now, his mother has decided, that portrait will adorn his tombstone.
There was Army pilot Aaron Weaver, 32, who had survived cancer and a rocket attack in the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, Somalia. The Bronze Star recipient and father of a baby girl was so determined to go to Iraq, he secured special medical clearance so he could fly.
Marine Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin, 21, proposed to fiancee Tiffany Frank by telephone from Iraq, then asked her to send him catalogues circling the engagement rings she liked best. They set a wedding date, Dec. 11. Tiffany had picked up her wedding gown the day she learned of his death.
Diego Rincon of Conyers, Ga. was cremated, but he has not been laid to rest. His family isn't ready for the final goodbye.
"One day when I'm old," his father says, "I'm going to bury him in Arlington. But not now. Not right now."
US Soldiers In Iraq Say 1,000 Death Toll Meaningless
September 7, 2004
BAQUBA, Iraq, Sept 7 (AFP) - The deaths of 1,000 American troops in Iraq since the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein has only strengthened US resolve to restore security to the strife-torn country, soldiers said.
Dismissing parallels with the 1961-75 war in Vietnam, officers lashed out at the media for playing the grim-reaper over the mounting casualty toll and failing to appreciate the sacrifices made by each soldier.
"It sucks. The newspapers glorify it. Everyday, reporting the numbers going up and up, trying to push a point," said Captain Gregory Wingard, 39, at the 1st Infantry Division's Camp Warhorse near Baquba, north of Baghdad.
"Sad as it is for those 1,000 families and their friends, they're nothing to the number of Iraqis that get killed trying to defend their own families," he added, smoking a cigar with friends under the stars.
"There's one word you have to push back at them. Gettsburg: 63,000 killed in a single day," said Sergeant Kimberly Snow, 35, from Ohio, refering to the US civil war battle.
The conversation turns to a comrade, a Muslim US soldier who was killed in June when a suicide bomber blew up a car outside the north gate of the base.
"I'm nervous, sure, because you don't know. When I lay down on my rack for the first 10 minutes I'm listening for mortars," said Wingard.
The bombs make him "I want to get that bastard."
US patrols are considered combat missions and soldiers have to be prepared to the worst every time they roll out of their bases.
"There's always a fear in the back of your head, but you can't let it take over," said Snow, speaking about the soldiers' biggest scourge -- the improvised explosive device, known as IEDs to the army, or a roadside bomb to civilians.
"The scary thing is its not like facing a normal enemy and you've got a good chance of fighting back. You're just tooling down the road and boom there's an explosion," said National Guard Major Tony Quinn, from North Carolina.
"If 1,000 died today, that'd be pretty significant, but its just another number," said 36-year-old Quinn, who is based along the Iran-Iraqi border.
"Every single soldier knows the risk. You do the best you can with your day and don't think about it. If I was to get killed tomorrow by an IED, I would not regret coming over here," said Captain Michael Adams, 37, from Oregon.
"Six months ago people were afraid of their own shadow. Now I've seen kids playing in the park, farmers are out working. Now they can have a chance at rebuilding their country," he added.
"Obviously when you loose people, its a tragic time. But you don't loose morale. It strengthens your resolve," said Specialist Robert Bybee, 21, deployed in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.
But for several young soldiers, barely old enough to graduate from college or have a beer in a US bar, the horror of war and the separation from loved ones is wearing thin.
"I'm scared even to take a shower in case they mortar us. I want to go home and be with my wife and start a family," said Specialist Luis Cruz, 21, from Puerto Rico, also based near Baquba.
But none of the soldiers accept any similarities with Vietnam, where tens of thousands of soldiers were killed before the United States finally withdrew.
"Once in a while people make comparisons, but I don't think the majority of soldiers feel there are any similarities," said Quinn.
"We are winning the hearts and minds... It's nothing like Vietnam. We're still missing 60,000, 52,000 were killed. We've had 1,000 soldiers die, how can you make a comparison?" said Wingard.