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thedrifter
04-25-04, 11:02 AM
LI soldier laid to rest

BY MARTIN C. EVANS
Staff Writer

April 23, 2004, 8:18 PM EDT


The names hopscotch across the grassy expanse at Long Island National Cemetery, each within a few feet of the other.

Rodriguez. Heighter. Tejeda. Johnson. Maltz. Fletcher.

Friday, a tombstone bearing the name of Cpl. Kevin T. Kolm was added to the six others in the cemetery that mark the graves of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 300 people -- family, friends, soldiers, schoolmates, teachers and well-wishers -- came to mourn Kolm, who was killed April 13 while trying to break through a line of insurgency to bring food and water to fellow Marines pinned down by fierce fighting in Fallujah.

"He made the ultimate sacrifice for us," said Alex Jimenez, of Hicksville, a childhood friend who delivered a graveside eulogy. "I say us, because that is who he was fighting for."

Jimenez read a passage from a letter Kolm had written after joining the corps.

"Some spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference," Kolm wrote. "Marines don't have that problem."

Later, Jimenez drew a rare moment of laughter from Kolm's grieving family when he lauded his friend as an effervescent if imperfect man, who took responsibility for his mistakes, and who won the love and respect of those who knew him.

"That's why so many of us are here," Jimenez said. "We wanted in. We wanted somehow to be a part of his life."

Lt. Col. Gregg Habel, who was part of a Marine honor contingent that attended Kolm's burial, said the 23-year-old was killed during an effort to transport food and water to a group of Marines that were pinned down while attempting a rescue in Fallujah.

A convoy of Humvees carrying the supplies had been turned back by withering arms fire in the Sunni town, west of Baghdad. Marines decided to load the supplies aboard two armored troop carriers, including one that Kolm commanded, and to try to break through the line of insurgents.

But as the troop carriers pushed forward, they came under attack. One turned back, but Kolm pressed forward, even though his vehicle had caught fire. Trapped in an unfamiliar part of the city, Kolm ordered the 20 Marines in his troop carrier to take refuge in a nearby building. As his men fled to safety, Kolm stayed behind to provide cover, firing 40-mm grenades from the troop carrier's MK19 machine gun.

Kolm was killed when a rocket propelled grenade slammed into the troop carrier. His body was burned beyond recognition.

Before the burial, hundreds of people gathered at a Hicksville funeral home to file past his flag-draped coffin.

Moments later, his body was escorted to the cemetery by a police motorcade that snaked through the community where he grew up, passing beneath huge American flags that were suspended across the roadway by fire department ladder trucks. Friday night, the fallen soldier was honored during the 5th inning of the Yankees/Red Sox baseball game when his name was flashed on the scoreboard.

Kolm was killed during the deadliest month of U.S. combat since the end of the Vietnam War. In all, at least 100 military personnel have been killed since the beginning of April.

Kolm's burial came amid controversy surrounding the release last week of Defense Department photographs of the return of coffins bearing America's war dead to the Air Force base at Dover, Del. The Defense Department, which released the photographs under a Freedom of Information Act request, has since resumed a ban on them that has been enforced by President George W. Bush.

Bush has blocked the release of the photographs, saying they intrude on the privacy of grieving families. Critics say the policy is designed to spare the White House from political embarrassment and deprives the American public of an appreciation of the human cost of war.

Kolm's father, Thomas Kolm, said he did not consider the release of the photographs to be an intrusion.

"I don't think it makes a difference, because people don't even know whose coffin is being carried," Kolm said. "I see no problem as long as the media handles it respectfully."

Kolm's burial Friday brings to seven the number of servicemen killed in Iraq or Afghanistan who have been laid to rest within a few feet of each other at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn.

He joins Spc. Jacob Fletcher, 28, of Bay Shore; Marine Cpl. Robert Rodriguez, 21, of New York; Marine Staff Sgt. Riayan Tejeda, 26, of New York; Army Pfc. Rayshawn Johnson, 20, of Brooklyn; Cpl. Raheen Heighter, 22, of Bay Shore, and Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Maltz, 42, a Wheatley Heights native who lived in Florida.

http://www.newsday.com/media/thumbnails/photogallery/2004-04/12357506.jpg

http://www.newsday.com/news/local/longisland/ny-lisoldier0425,0,2781543.story?coll=ny-topstories-headlines


Ellie


Rest In Peace