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thedrifter
04-23-06, 08:53 AM
CHARMS OF WAR
They took lucky things to Iraq, hoping they’d lead to a safe return
Sunday, April 23, 2006
Jeb Phillips
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Capt. Karen O’Neill carried a medal of St. Christopher, the guardian of travelers. Her 7-year-old cousin gave it to her, thinking it would help bring her back safely from Baghdad. He was right.

Lance Cpl. Kyle Dawson carried a photo of his wife, an ultrasound image of their unborn baby and a picture of his yellow Lab, Gunner. He kept all three in his uniform’s left breast pocket, over his heart. The baby is 10 months old now.

Gunnery Sgt. Shawn Delgado, who earned a Bronze Star with Columbus’ Lima Company near the Syrian border, carried no pictures, no mementos, no medals. They wouldn’t help him, he said, and he’s not a sentimental guy. He carried his M-16.

"My rifle made me feel a hell of a lot better than anything else," he said.

So, in its way, that became a charm, too.

Almost everyone carries some kind of charm to Iraq. If they forget, a loved one sends something: a cross, a special letter, a childhood doll. Whatever it is, and wherever it comes from, it’s part of their armor. It might help them get home.

Army Reserve Maj. Joe Gabriel, of Pickerington, carried some dog tags from Vietnam, hoping they would keep him alive the way they did his father in 1966 and ’67. Senior Airman Stephen Waltman II, who lives on the East Side, was sent pictures from home of the leaves changing last fall because he was sick of all the sand and heat.

Chief Master Sgt. Rudy Dalton, who is based at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, carried the Bible that his wife gave him. But he has been in the military long enough, almost 30 years, to know that other people would need charms that they might not have. Before he deployed in September 2004, he had 300 business cards printed. One side had his name, phone number and e-mail address, and the other had a drawing of Jesus on the cross with a verse about healing the world with his wounds. He handed out the cards to other troops.

Faith, Dalton said, is one of those things from home that seem more important when you’re away.

Marine Reserve Sgt. Michael DeMers, a member of the Lima Company, 3 rd Battalion, 25 th Marines, always carried a medal of St. Michael, the patron of soldiers. Marine Reserve Lance Cpl. Adam Lanotte, of Reynoldsburg, wore dog tags around his neck that were inscribed with Joshua 1:9 — "Be strong and of good courage ... for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" — and verses from Psalms 91 — "The Lord ... is my refuge and my fortress."

They carried funny things, too. Capt. Marshall Jackson, of the Ohio National Guard, took a few golf clubs because he figured he’d get a chance to work on his wedges in the desert. The 121 st Refueling Wing’s Capt. O’Neill also had a huge stuffed dog with her because her real one always sleeps with her at home. Someone sent Air National Guard Lt. Col. Beau Dodge, who is based at Rickenbacker, an Ohio State flag, which he hung above his desk just north of Baghdad.

They carried the little things that helped them remember what means the most to them. Capt. Jackson, who is 35, carried a pair of bunny slippers that his mother gave him in high school. Army Sgt. 1 st Class William Ambrose, who lives on the West Side and is stationed at the Abu Ghraib prison, carried an alarm clock that records people’s voices. When he presses a button, he hears his wife and two children say, "I love you, Daddy." In his uniform, he carries a rosary that his wife gave him.

Marine Reserve Lance Cpl. Collen West, who was shot three times with Lima Company in Iraq and is still in physical therapy, carried a picture of his family’s house on the Northwest Side.

"Everyone gets a little homesick," he said.

Maybe bunny slippers, medals and photos help you survive a war, and maybe they don’t. But West came home. And Ambrose will have that rosary with him until he sees his wife again.

jeb.phillips@dispatch.com

Ellie