CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – It was a sobering reminder in more ways than one.
Marines here marked Memorial Day this morning with a ceremony honoring veterans of all wars, but with a special emphasis on those who have sacrificed their lives here in Afghanistan.
With the flags of the U.S., Afghanistan and Great Britain flying overhead, a single bell tolled once each in the name of 15 Marines and a Navy corpsman who have died since I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) took over April 12 as the command element of Marine operations in southern Afghanistan. Fifteen of those 16 service members have died since May 2, when photographer Tom Brown and I arrived here with plans to embed with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, in Marjah, a former Taliban stronghold that is still hotly contested.
Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, commander of Marine forces in Afghanistan, asked a crowd of 300 Marines assembled to put the deaths in perspective.
“I would ask that you remember them for what they were: Heroes, not victims,” he said. “And I’d ask that you remember their families for what they are: Heroes, not victims.”
After the ceremony ended, many Marines approached two battle crosses – consisting of rifles standing vertically with helmets, boots and dog tags adorning them – erected in honor of the casualties. Several men genuflected to offer prayers, while others gingerly placed a hand on the clean Kevlar helmets on top of the crosses.
As a reporter, I’ve covered dozens of patriotic events and funerals honoring service members lost in combat. They’ve taken place in small towns like Agawam, Mass., and Aberdeen, Md., as I’ve moved to better myself and build a career.
On this day, however, the ceremony felt more personal.
I reflected on the fun-loving Marines living in the rundown schoolhouse I wrote about here, and how hard several of them took the loss of Staff Sgt. Adam Perkins, an explosive ordnance disposal technician who died May 17 following an improvised explosive device blast.
I reflected on the Marines we saw crying at Camp Hanson on May 6 – the very same night we embedded with 3/6 – after they learned that one of their own, Lance Cpl. Christopher Rangel, was gunned down by a sniper while on patrol.
And I reflected on the May 12 death of Sgt. Joshua Desforges, a Marine with 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, who grew up in Ludlow, Mass., which borders my hometown of Chicopee.
War is never easy. It’s dirty, messy, terrifying and frustrating, even in the best of circumstances. It takes sacrifices large and small, from the missing of family birthdays and anniversaries to the loss of limbs and peace of mind that some service members cope with after a deployment.
We’ll keep blogging from Afghanistan until we return to the U.S. on June 10. In the meantime, I hope this site has in some small way helped someone, anyone, understand the hardships our fellow countrymen face overseas, and the humor, courage and resolve they use to face them.
Happy Memorial Day to all.
Thank you for publishing this! My son is at Camp Leatherneck. God bless each and every Marine! God bless all service men and women! You have done us proud!
Thank you for this blog. It helps us all understand what our Marines are going through. They are all in our minds today and every day.
I appreciate this blog! I served with 3/6 from ’94-’98 and knew MajGen Mills when he was a Colonel. He’s a hell of a marine and great leader! I’m going to link Battle Rattle to my own blog because it’s an extension of what I’ve set out to do, which is express the importance of our marines and their missions and purposes. Thanks again! Keep up the great work!!!!
Thank you for what you are doing. Happy Memorial Day. Please tell the 3/6 that their families thank them & love them so very much.
Thank you for sharing this. My son leaves for Marine boot camp in Feb. and I am so very proud of him.
Thank you for what you do. My son is with the 3/6 and we don’t hear much from him. It helps when people like you keep us updated. Thank you again and God bless all of our troops over there.
Thanks to ALL of America’s HEROES both ABROAD & STATESIDE. Without each of you, we wouldn’t be…. My son, too, is @ Camp Leatherneck. Altho we are blessed to get some communication from him, we get no details. He has withdrawn from family contact. Your news helps with some of the many questions.
my fiance is with 3/6. i love him so very much and he knows that im so very proud of him. i cant wait for him to come home. if you would to add me on facebook you can just let me no
Thank you for this blog. My son is there – and I miss him so much. I feel more connected when I read about things going on there. Thank you for covering this ceremony and honoring not only the fallen Marines, but their families as well.
If you can find my son – Camp Bastion – give him a big hug from his mom…
Bravo, Mr. Lamothe. Your piece is well written and obviously heartfelt, as well. Every American should be aware of things about which you write.
Thank you for being there and covering the story of war; my son is there, too, at Camp Leatherneck.
Thank you for what you do.
My husband is there right now.
Articles & photographs are all the keep me going.
Thank you for what you do.
My husband is there right now.
Articles & photographs are all that keep me going.
My husband is there right now in Camp Leatherneck. He is one of the finest Navy Corpsman. I and his kids love him very much and we miss him deeply. Tell “DOC” Bradshaw his wife and kids are thinking about him. He is with the 1MEF….Come home soon baby!!!!
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Heya i am for the primary time here. I found this board and I in finding It really helpful & it helped me out much. I am hoping to provide one thing again and aid others such as you helped me.
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You could definitely see your expertise in the work you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time go after your heart.
Tengo un hijo en Capm Leatherneck ,recien acaba de llegar. y quiero por medio este medio feclicitarlo por su labor y darle las gracias y la bendicion a todos nuestros marins y soldados en general por el sacrificio de poner en riesgo su vida y por estar lejos de su pais y de su familia. Yo como madre creo que son los tiempos mas dificiles que nos tocado vivir. Quiero hacer un comenterio y me gustaria que dentro de sus posibilidades reportaran un poco mas de las actividades de nuestros militares , porque esta es una forma de estar un poco mas cerca de ellos mientra cumplen su mision. Gracias y que Dios los bendiga.
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