May 25, 2008
Marines enjoy Memorial Day weekend at home

By Nancy Dooling
Press & Sun-Bulletin

TOWN OF CHENANGO -- It was the sweetest of homecomings for two young Marines and their families on an otherwise somber weekend when Americans honor their war dead.

Michael Kliment and Steven Derzanovich, both 20, came home from the war zone in Iraq to good food, good friends, family gatherings and a wedding.

Derzanovich will marry Kate Crane on Friday, with Kliment as his best man. Kliment's family and friends hosted a party Sunday where more than 50 people gathered at the home of family friend, Bert Adams.

It was purely by coincidence that the two best friends, both 2006 Chenango Forks graduates, came home on leave to the Town of Chenango over Memorial Day weekend, they said. Both have been in Iraq since November. They'll return in mid June to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

"Being in Iraq you really appreciate the people you saw all the time at home," said Cpl. Derzanovich. He missed the birth of a niece while serving as with a tanker unit with the 2nd Marine Division in Fallujah. "But now that I'm home, I'll catch up."

Lance Cpl. Kliment, a machine gunner with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, spent his time in Al Anbar Province either scouring for weapons caches and explosives or training the Iraqi military. He missed seeing his family and friends, but called home once a week and sent plenty of e-mails to his parents, Jeff and Cindy Kliment.

Both Kliments admit the past seven months have been nerve wracking. So far, 4,080 American military personnel have died in Iraq.

Jeff kept up with his son's unit by constantly watching CNN. Cindy said she couldn't bear to watch. Once they went 10 days without hearing from their son. "You always imagine the worst," Cindy said.

And it wasn't until Michael Kliment stepped off the plane Friday night at Greater Binghamton Airport that Cindy could relax. "I was so glad to see his face," Kliment's mother said. "It was very, very emotional."

Both Kliment and Derzanovich said serving in Iraq is not nearly as deadly to American servicemen and servicewoman as it was a few years ago. There remains, however, an uneasy relationship between Iraqi citizens in western Iraq and the American military.

Iraqi children are friendly, said Kliment, who taught some of them to speak English.

Derzanovich would throw food and water to children from his tank. "They loved us," Derzanovich said of Iraqi kids. But he noticed there were fewer young people, ages 15 to 25, around. "It was kind of weird," Derzanovich said. And those they did see weren't happy. "They'd stare you down," Derzanovich said.

But the wartime experience was worth it, Kliment said.

"The best experience was being with my Marine brothers," Kliment said. "It makes it feel like family."