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Camp Pendleton honors 125 Marines and sailors killed in the last year in Afghanistan

The ceremony continues a tradition of respect for the fallen, and is a reminder of the Marine Corps' history of battles won, losses suffered and heroes recognized.

May 21, 2011|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
  • During ceremonies at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps honored 125 Marines and sailors killed in the last year as well as 2,000 others wounded while serving in Afghanistan.
During ceremonies at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps honored 125 Marines… (Mark Boster, Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Camp Pendleton — For 78-year-old Harry Mixer, a retired Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant who served in Korea and Vietnam, the event Friday hit all the important notes.

In a brief ceremony after the morning raising of the American flag, Marine brass remembered all the Marines who died in the last year in Afghanistan. An Afghanistan battle streamer was attached to the 1st Marine Division colors — linking Afghanistan with battles of the past.

Both actions were important to Mixer — respect for the fallen, and a reminder of the Marine Corps history of battles won, losses suffered and heroes recognized.

"It's important for these young Marines to remember the heritage," Mixer said. "They're the tip of the spear at the front of the column now. The old Corps was tough, but these young Marines are just as tough."

As an institution, one of the distinguishing features of the Marine Corps is its reverence for its history. Former Marines are invited to all ceremonies on this sprawling base: changes of command, memorials, award presentations, even ribbon cuttings for a new barracks or water treatment plant.

For example, at a change-of-command ceremony Thursday for the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, there were several rows of former Marines. A page in the program was devoted to remembrance of a Marine from the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in Vietnam: Cpl. Larry L. Maxam.

And so Friday, as the Marine Corps honored 125 Marines and sailors killed in Afghanistan in the last year — and an additional 2,000 wounded — Mixer and other former Marines were in a place of honor as a bugler played taps, followed by a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace."

Monthly ceremonies had been held in the same location — in front of the division headquarters — in the year in which the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was in command of all Marines in Afghanistan.

In mid-March, that authority passed to Marine brass from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

On Friday, the names were read of the last eight Marines killed in Afghanistan while the Camp Pendleton command unit was in charge — including the final one, Cpl. Ian Muller, 22, of Danville, Vt., who was killed March 11.

Of the 125, only about half were from Camp Pendleton. The rest were from other Marine bases but under the command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and its ground-combat arm, the 1st Marine Division.

If Mixer and others were thinking of past battles, the generals were thinking of battles yet to be fought in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, where the brass expects the Taliban to mount a counteroffensive to reclaim key terrain.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, who commanded Marine combat troops in Afghanistan during the last year, noted that it will be Camp Pendleton's turn to replace troops in that war zone from Camp Lejeune and other bases.

"It will only be a few short months," he said, "and we'll be back in combat."

tony.perry@latimes.com

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