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07-06-04, 04:00 PM
'Strong and courageous'

Marines remember comrades, vow to uphold Iraq mission
By Rick Rogers
July 5, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq While Americans celebrated 228 years of freedom yesterday, U.S. Marines here mourned its costs and considered their role in guiding the fledging democracy of Iraq to brighter days.

In an early-morning ceremony, Marines paid their respects to two comrades who died while serving with Camp Pendleton's 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

Lance Cpl. Timothy R. Creager, 21, and Lance Cpl. James B. Huston, 22, died in separate incidents late last week while patrolling near the city of Fallujah. Since March, 12 Marines and one interpreter from the battalion have died.

The Marines said they accept the deaths as the price paid for freedom and for ensuring that Americans can enjoy the Fourth of July in relative safety.

"The more we are over here fighting them, the less likely they'll be bombing us at home," said Cpl. Joseph Lorek, who served with Creager in Delta Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance. The unit is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., but is attached to the battalion for this deployment.

"Everyone back home is celebrating the Fourth," said Lorek, a 19-year-old from Mentor, Ohio, near Cleveland. "Our fireworks will be whatever we see when we are on patrol tonight."

The Marines saluted as they filed past a memorial for their comrades two M-16s with fixed bayonets topped by helmets and goggles. Dog tags hung from the rifle grips. Printed on one of them was this Bible verse: "I will be strong and courageous. I will not be terrified or discouraged; for the Lord my God is with me wherever I go."

Several hundred Marines participated in the service.

Since late March, the battalion has battled insurgents in and around Fallujah.

In recent weeks, several Marines have been wounded some of them seriously by sniper and mortar fire while manning checkpoints with nicknames such as "the Alamo."

Battalion commander Lt. Col. Gregg Olson drew a parallel between the help the Marines are giving the new nation of Iraq and that which the United States received in its early days.

Olson compared the current efforts to those of Marquis de Lafayette, the Frenchman who fought with American forces during the Revolutionary War.

"The parallels between our efforts here and those efforts of the friends of our fledging nation who stood together and gave their time, treasure and talent in the service of American independence are too great to mention," he said.

By any standard, duty in Fallujah is hard on the Marines. Incredible heat beats them down, many Iraqis distrust them and insurgents try to kill them.

However, most Marines believe in their mission and that their sacrifices will make a difference in the Middle East and, ultimately, make the United States a safer place.

"People ask me if it's worth being out here, and it is," said Pfc. Andrew Manzi, 19, from Waterford, Conn. "We are out here so our family can enjoy the Fourth of July the way it should be. That's really the only thing that keeps me going."

Staff writer Rick Rogers and staff photographer Nelvin Cepeda are accompanying Camp Pendleton-based Marines in Iraq.


NELVIN CEPEDA / Union-Tribune
For Camp Pendleton-based Marines in Fallujah, the Fourth of July was a day to pay tribute to two Marines who were killed last week while on separate patrols outside the restive Iraqi city.


NELVIN CEPEDA / Union-Tribune photos
Special dog tags were placed on the memorial to the Marines.



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