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thedrifter
12-25-08, 07:08 AM
Devoted patriot and son spends 3rd Christmas at war

Wednesday, December 24th 2008, 11:47 PM

The Christmas Eve greeting came via e-mail from Iraq.

"MERRY CHRISTMAS !!!! HOPE YOU EAT A LOT AND HAVE A GOOD TIME. JAMES"

James is my buddy, Marine Staff Sgt. James Brower, who is spending his third Christmas at war.

The first was right after 9/11, when he was a 20-year-old lance corporal among the first units into Afghanistan. He sent his parents a card wishing them "Season's Greetings."

"I'll be in Afghanistan for about two months through Xmas," he wrote. "We will be doing raids and going through caves and mountains looking for bad guys."

He was in a fighting trench on Dec. 25, 2001, and he fashioned a Christmas tree by decorating some twigs with Tabasco sauce bottles and cigarettes.

A chaplain happened by and paused to bless the tree. He inquired if Brower also had a Bible in the trench.

"No, Padre, but I got a s---load of ammo," Brower replied.

He spent the next three Christmases at home and left the Marines to join the NYPD. The Marines then summoned him back to active duty in 2005. His mother knew just what to send him for Christmas of 2005.

"Body armor," Elaine Brower reported.

He was back home in time for Christmas of 2006, having survived six roadside bombings.

"Six IEDs [improvised explosive devices]?" people kept asking at his welcome-home party.

His less lucky comrades included 23-year-old Lance Cpl. Christopher Cosgrove, killed by a car bomb as the unit packed up to leave.

Cosgrove was survived by his fiancée, who had already bought her wedding gown. The wake was held in the catering hall where they would have had their wedding reception.

Brower returned to the NYPD and was assigned to the 72nd Precinct in Brooklyn. He was home on Christmas of 2007. A picture shows him dozing on the sofa with his dog.

Six years after he first went into combat, his country was still at war. He was again called back to active duty and deployed to Iraq for a third combat tour.

The mother once more went Christmas shopping for a son away at war. He had all the body armor he could wear, so she mailed him two of his favorites.

"Organic peanut butter and Raisinets, dark chocolate Raisinets," she reported.

The cops at the 72nd Precinct called her to say they wanted to send him a Christmas tree. "How are you going to send him a tree in Iraq?" the mother asked.

Not long afterward, Brower called his mother and said the cops had indeed managed to send him a perfect little tree.

"He put lights on it and everything," the mother reported. "He said the guys love it!"

He was still in harm's way in a distant land when he e-mailed his holiday greeting to family and friends yesterday. His mother was at home, wrapping presents for her daughter and husband and others who are close to home. She spoke of how many Americans walk around as if we were not at war.

"People will say to me, 'How's your son doing?' and I tell them, 'He's back there,' and they say, 'He's back there? I thought it was over,'" the mother said. "Then I talk to mothers who have lost their kids."

Yesterday, the Defense Department identified the latest fatality, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Thomas Reilly, killed in an ambush near where Brower is deployed.

At the Brower home on Staten Island, Elaine had taken out the photograph snapped last Christmas of her son dozing on the sofa with his dog.

"I have to just say I'm lucky he's okay," she said.

He is due back in June and the war in Iraq seems to be winding down. Still, she has heard of plans to send more troops to where he fashioned a Christmas tree with twigs and Tabasco bottles seven years ago.

"I told him, 'You're not going to Afghanistan,'" the mother said. "He doesn't answer me."

mdaly@nydailynews.com

Ellie