Military Community Mourns Death Of Navy SEALs

Thirty Americans were killed Saturday when their helicopter came under fire during an operation in eastern Afghanistan. A majority of the Navy SEALs who died were based in Norfolk, Va.

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In Afghanistan, the downing of a helicopter filled with American Special Forces and Afghan troops suggests how great a challenge the Taliban still pose. Officials believe the big Chinook helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade, and that attack on Sunday by militants was the deadliest since the war there began.

Of the 30 Americans killed, 22 were members of an elite Navy SEAL team, something particularly poignant given it was Navy SEALS who succeeded so dramatically in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Many of those killed were based in Norfolk, Virginia. That's where NPR's Daniel Zwerdling went to talk to residents about the loss. And what he found surprised him.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: When I came down here, I expected to see all kinds of public displays of mourning. People would have left makeshift memorials with flowers and wreaths; people would be hanging American flags outside their houses; stores would have signs saying, we honor our fallen heroes. But I've seen absolutely none of that.

So I've come to a pretty, yellow house on a shady street to talk to a woman who used to be in the Navy - her husband is in the Navy now - and I wanted her to explain why is this community so quiet.

Ms. VIVIAN GREENTREE(ph): Hey. Come on in. I'm Vivian. It's nice to meet you.

ZWERDLING: Hi. Vivian Greentree, you work with Blue Star Families. You work with military families, including SEALs and their family members.

Ms. GREENTREE: Yes, sir.

ZWERDLING: So why is there such a public silence here?

Ms. GREENTREE: Well, the military community in general - I think it's not just restricted to the SEALs - kind of a stiff upper lip. And so you wouldn't see -sorry. You could very easily imagine yourself in that position. You know, I just - my heart goes out to those spouses.

ZWERDLING: I asked everybody, is there going to be any kind of public service to honor the SEALs? I found only one. Saturday night, there was a brief tribute at the minor league baseball game. The Norfolk Tides were playing.

Unidentified Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we ask you all to rise and join us in a moment of silence for all of our service men and women who answered our nation's call to arms and made the ultimate sacrifice defending our freedom, including those U.S. Special Operations troops that tragically lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

ZWERDLING: I wanted to hear what others have been thinking since the troops died in that helicopter in Afghanistan. So I went to the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Norfolk. It's the home of the U.S.S. Wisconsin.

This huge battleship from World War II is docked here. Tourists come from all over the country to see it. and we're going into the museum to talk with some of them. There are two gentlemen sitting on the bench. resting a little bit.

Before we begin, may I have your names, please?

Mr. JOHN PAIGE(ph): John Paige.

Mr. STEPHEN PAIGE(ph): Stephen Paige.

ZWERDLING: And your hat shows that you were a...

Mr. J. PAIGE: Vietnam combat first sergeant.

ZWERDLING: What have you heard about the tragedy the other day in Afghanistan?

Mr. J. PAIGE: I think we need to get out of there. If the Soviets couldn't whoop them, what makes you think we can? Or they need to go in there and kick ass. Stop playing around. Bring the war to them.

ZWERDLING: And you don't think that's happening?

Mr. J. PAIGE: No, I don't - not if they can hide in the mountains and shoot rockets at our helicopters.

ZWERDLING: And now I'm going to walk over to a woman sitting on the other bench.

Ms. MARIE PROPES(ph): My name is Marie Propes. My husband's a nurse in the Navy, and I have a neighbor who's one of the SEALs at Dam Neck.

ZWERDLING: What is your reaction to hearing about these deaths?

Ms. PROPES: That's a loaded question. I think that it's time for us to come home. I think enough countries have been there and have proven that it's a war that cannot be won. And I've lost enough friends now, and I think it's time that we come home. And I applaud those SEALs for being there and sacrificing for us and to take out the bad guys, but I'd rather see them - other countries doing other things, rather than fighting a war that just can't be won.

ZWERDLING: Those are residents of Chesapeake and Norfolk, Virginia.

Daniel Zwerdling, NPR News.

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