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'They Did Not Yearn to Be Heroes'

On Memorial Day, Bush honors troops killed in Iraq war at Arlington. In North Carolina, the first Marines return home from combat.

May 27, 2003|Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush paid tribute Monday to U.S. troops killed in the Persian Gulf region, even as the casualty rate of the Iraq war rose with the deaths of two more soldiers in separate assaults.

"We come to this Memorial Day with deep awareness of recent loss and recent courage," the president said, laying a wreath of carnations at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and reading aloud from the letters of service members who died in Iraq.

"Americans like these did not fight for glory, but to fulfill a duty," the president said. "They did not yearn to be heroes. They yearned to see mom and dad again and to hold their sweethearts and to watch their sons and daughters grow."

It was the second consecutive Memorial Day to immediately follow a war, and observations around the nation Monday reflected the difficult times since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Mindful that U.S. soldiers are still at risk in Iraq, many Americans observed a one-minute moment of remembrance at 3 p.m. local time.

Combined, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq added 208 combat deaths to the more than hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died fighting for their country.

At Arlington cemetery, Bush stressed that none of the deaths would be forgotten.

He spoke about the recent burial of 1st Lt. Rob Jenkins, a 20-year-old World War II soldier in the Army Air Forces. Jenkins and five fellow soldiers were shot down over North Africa in 1942. Their plane was recently recovered and Jenkins' remains were returned to the U.S. to be buried with military honors.

"This nation does not forget," the president said.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld compared the sacrifices of those who have died fighting the "tyranny of terrorism" to past U.S. heroes who battled the "evils of their times," including totalitarianism and communism.

On Monday, one U.S. serviceman was killed and another wounded when their eight-vehicle convoy came under heavy attack near Al Hadithah, northwest of Baghdad. Another soldier was killed and three were wounded near Baghdad's international airport when their vehicle was either hit by or ran over a land mine or other explosive device that apparently had been thrown at it, military officials said.

In the nation's capital, families braved wet weather to remember their loved ones at the black granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Overhead, military aircraft patrolled cloudy skies, a reminder of the nation's high alert against possible terrorist strikes.

The traditional Memorial Day concert along the Mall on Sunday night paid special tribute to the crew of the space shuttle Columbia, which broke apart in February during reentry.

In New York, at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum's annual ceremony, the wives of two Marine Corps pilots killed in Iraq dropped a wreath into the Hudson River.

But several traditional Memorial Day events were canceled because of poor weather, particularly on the East Coast.

Rain, however, didn't dampen the homecoming at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where the first wave of about 2,300 Marines in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit reunited with their families after nine months away.

The unit was the first major Corps unit to return from combat in Iraq, where the Marines were among the first troops to enter Baghdad.

"It's good to see U.S. soil, really good," said Cpl. Travis Hoots, a Marine from Roodhouse, Ill. His wife, Jamie, greeted him on the beach with their 7-month-old son, whom Hoots had never met.

"I spent a lot of nights thinking about what this day would be like," Travis Hoots said. "I'm just sort of dumbfounded."

The homecoming was marred by the death of Petty Officer 3rd Class Dwayne Williams, 23, of Philadelphia, who died after falling overboard from the amphibious assault ship Nassau, one of the ships bringing the Marine unit home.

Williams reportedly tripped while trying to catch a football on deck and plunged into 8- to 10-foot seas. Attempts to rescue Williams were unsuccessful.

In Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb with a large number of Arab Americans, thousands of people gathered for a parade along Michigan Avenue.

Akram Al-Mohammed, who came to the United States from Iraq with his wife eight years ago, said he took part as a way of thanking the soldiers who helped liberate his native land.

"We came to share the celebration together with the American people," Al-Mohammed said. "This year, we are very happy because our old president is gone. We've got freedom in our country."


Times wire services contributed to this report.

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