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WAR WITH IRAQ / U.S. CASUALTIES

As Remains Come Home, So Does War

The Marines are among the 20 American troops killed in combat or in accidents in the conflict in Iraq. At least four are from the Southland.

March 26, 2003|Tom Gorman and Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writers

The first remains of U.S. troops killed in Iraq arrived in the United States on Tuesday, as the war came home to people such as Amanda Jordan in neighborhoods across the country.

Jordan's husband, Phillip, was one of nine Marines killed Sunday in an ambush near the city of Nasiriyah in southeastern Iraq.

Jordan, who was 42, telephoned his wife about two weeks ago to wish her happy anniversary -- their ninth -- because he figured he might be too busy on the actual occasion to call back.

He was right.

Their anniversary fell on the day the fighting in Iraq began. That prescient phone call to Connecticut would be the last time the two spoke. Their son, Tyler, is "just 6 years old, so I don't think he really understands," said the boy's uncle, Scott Marcroft.

The bodies of those who had fallen earlier arrived near dawn Tuesday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, home to the military's largest mortuary. As an honor guard stood at attention, Col. Scott E. Wuesthoff and wing chaplain Lt. Col. Karen Stocks boarded a plane carrying the bodies of two unidentified Marines.

The arrival was closed to the public and the media, as is customary.

"We said a prayer for our fallen comrades and their families," Wuesthoff said later. The remains were taken to a mortuary, where they will be identified and prepared for return to their families.

Twenty U.S. troops have been killed in combat or in accidents since the war in Iraq began last week.

All nine of the Marines killed in Sunday's ambush were based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The U.S. flag at the base flew at half staff, and an enormous yellow bow fluttered on the railing outside the USO center.

Four of the victims of Sunday's attack were from Southern California. The rest came from all corners of the country.

Tommy Slocum, 22, was from Thornton, Colo., and "all boy," said his grandfather, Ralph Johnson.

Brian Buesing of Cedar Key, Fla., "always had a smile on his face," said Angie Doty, who works in the guidance office at Cedar Key High School.

David Fribley, 26, was a standout in football and track in Warsaw, Ind. He enlisted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Dave Fulkerson, the Warsaw Community High School athletic director, who served Tuesday as a family spokesman. "A hard-nosed kid," Fulkerson said of the hulking 6-footer.

Friends and former classmates of Fred Pokorney Jr., 31, said the Marine Corps was the family he never had growing up.

After his mother died, Pokorney was raised by his father and an aunt. When his aunt died, Pokorney's father, an itinerant construction worker, hit the road. Rather than leave Tonopah, Nev. -- midway between Las Vegas and Reno -- the 16-year-old Pokorney chose to stay. He moved in with the sheriff, Wade Lieseke, and his wife, Suzi.

"He wanted stability, and we offered him that," Lieseke said Tuesday.

Lieseke and others remembered Pokorney as a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder with an even bigger heart. An imposing figure on the school's football and basketball teams, "he'd help anyone in town who needed it," said a former classmate, Rick Forney. "He'd break his back for you to help you out."

Adults saw a young man with a rare and surprising degree of self-discipline. "He was academically inclined and worked very hard on whatever project we gave him," said auto-shop teacher Art Johnson. "He did every assignment we gave him and stayed on task."

Pokorney joined the Marine Corps after graduating from Tonopah High School in 1989. He was commissioned as an officer after graduating from Oregon State University in 2001.

"If anyone made a right decision out of high school, it was Fred joining the Marine Corps," said Roger Morones, a high school classmate. "It was good to know you had someone like Fred defending our country."

Part of the attraction was the order and structure of military life, Lieseke said. "He was very goal-oriented and was doing everything he needed to do to prepare for his future.... He graduated No. 1 in his class in basic training. He wanted to succeed in everything he did."

Lieseke said he spoke by phone with Pokorney, a field artillery officer, about two weeks ago, after he had arrived in Kuwait. "We didn't talk about what he was facing," Lieseke said. "If he had any fears, he did what he had to do anyway."

Pokorney had been married for four years. He and his wife, Chelle, have a 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Taylor. On Tuesday, a white mailbox outside their home was adorned with a pink bow, interlaced with a red, white and blue ribbon.

"It's just a shame," said Johnson, the grandfather of Cpl. Slocum, who could have spoken for any number of people on such a dispiriting day. "What can you say?"

*

Times researcher Anne M. Virtue and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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