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thedrifter
01-05-06, 08:01 AM
Fallen, but not forgotten
January 05,2006
BY CHRISSY INGRAM
DAILY NEWS STAFF

As Michelle Boatman strolled into the Marine Corps Exchange on Camp Lejeune last month to take care of some shopping, something stopped her.

She gazed to her left and up at the 9-foot object standing in the entryway.

"I stopped dead in my tracks as I realized at that moment what it was for," she said.

It was the "Fallen Warriors" tree set up by the Beirut Memorial Chapter 642 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. The white tree was speckled with 156 purple ornaments, each with the name of a serviceman or woman from the area killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

As Boatman got closer to the tree, a man asked her if she needed help.

"I asked him if he knew how I could get my husband's name put on the tree," she said. "Then he said it already was."

Her husband, Gunnery Sgt. Darrell W. Boatman, 38, died from wounds he received in combat on Nov. 2, 2005, near Habbiniyah, Iraq. He was injured by an improvised explosive device while serving as an ordnance disposal technician with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group.

On Wednesday, Michelle Boatman was awarded her own purple heart of sorts - the purple ornament from the "Fallen Warriors" tree that bore her husband's name - as a small token of honor for the injuries she herself has endured in recent months due to her loss.

"It just lets you know he's not forgotten," she said. "It's just a beautiful expression. They didn't have to do this, but they did."

Knowing that people in the community care adds a fraction of ease for Boatman to cope with her loss, she said.

"It makes it easier because you realize the community appreciates what the service members do as well," she said.

Other family members of fallen warriors stood nearby, awaiting their own presentation as members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart took down the tree.

Mac McGee, commander of the chapter, said the group wanted to pay tribute to those who had sacrificed their lives. But first, they didn't want history to repeat itself.

"Most of us are Vietnam veterans," McGee said. "We did not want to happen to these warriors what happened in our generation. We were treated lousily. When they come home we want them to know they're appreciated."

The tree was a reminder of freedom to Kim Goodwin, who lost her husband.

"It's beautiful, I can tell you that," Goodwin said between tears.

"It represents that I am allowed to stand here and cry. We're free people. It represents that there are good men and women out there who sacrifice for our lives. It's for freedom - that's what they're fighting for - so others can have that freedom too."

When her husband, Staff Sgt. Anthony L. Goodwin, 33, left home for his third tour in Iraq, he told her he would not return. The Grim Reaper could only pass him by so many times, he said, and he'd had too many close calls. Kim Goodwin believed him. But it didn't make it any easier, she said.

Anthony Goodwin was killed on May 8, 2005, by small-arms fire while fighting insurgents in western Iraq near Al Qa'im in the Al Anbar Province. He was an infantry unit leader with Camp Lejeune's 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

"He prepared us for this," Goodwin said. "So you're prepared, but you're not. The Marine Corps was something that was in his blood. He wanted to die in combat for his country."

Anthony Goodwin had volunteered to go with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment as a platoon commander, she said. The Ohio-based reserve unit lost 48 Marines while in Iraq. And Goodwin hopes that they are not only remembered, but appreciated.

"Seeing this tree makes me realize that Americans need to be more supportive," she said. "Freedom isn't free. We can't take it for granted. I hope people will continue praying for peace. I think we've lost patriotism in this country and it makes me sad because my husband lost his life for it. That's what this tree means to me."

Goodwin knows that now she will never be one who takes their sacrifices for granted.

"I thank God every night when I lay my head to sleep that I'm allowed to do that," she said.

Last month Goodwin brought her two children to the store to look at the tree. They all stood, admiring its beauty and reflecting on the service members who died, she said.

When leaving they simply said, "Goodbye, Daddy, goodbye."

Contact staff writer Chrissy Ingram at cingram@freedomenc.com or by calling 353-1171, ext. 239.

Ellie