Marine Base Honors Those Killed in Iraq

A memorial service was held at Camp Pendleton in Southern California for the Fifth Regimental Combat Team to pay tribute to the 100 Marines and sailors who were killed in Iraq during the past year's deployment.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now, a break from apologies and the politics of war.

The Marine Corps' Regimental Combat Team 5 has just returned from a yearlong deployment in Iraq's Anbar province. Back at Camp Pendleton in California, the regiment held a memorial service for the 100 of its members who didn't make it home.

NPR's Andrea Hsu was there.

ANDREA HSU: The ceremony took place on a large square pavement known as the Parade Deck. The backdrop was an enormous U.S. flag suspended by cranes. In the center sat 13 sets of boots, helmets and M-16 rifles. They represented the 13 battalions who lost members during the deployment. Regimental Commander Colonel Larry Nicholson addressed the fighting set(ph), as well as families and friends.

Colonel LARRY NICHOLSON (U.S. Army): We who have returned from Iraq with these colors will take time out to salute and honor our fallen comrades. You will notice I did not say we will remember these heroes because they are not now, nor will they ever be for - from what the collective thoughts and prayers of our grizzly team.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

Sergeant MICHAEL HERNANDEZ (U.S. Army): Private First Class Colin Wolfe, Manassas, Virginia. Killed in action, August 30th, 2006.

HSU: Sergeant Michael Hernandez had the solemn task of reading aloud the names of his fellow service members.

Sergeant HERNANDEZ: Lance Corporal Cliff Golla, shot -

HSU: Chain by chain, the dog tags of those who died were hung from the M-16. And by the end, the many pieces of embossed metals were clinking together in the wind.

(Soundbite of metals clinking)

HSU: On one set of tags, identifying information for Lance Corporal Richard Allen Buerstetta, who was killed in Fallujah last October. He was 20. His parents Madeline and Paul Buerstetta were in from Tennessee.

Ms. MADELINE BUERSTETTA: When the World Trade Center towers went down, he came to me one day and said, I'm going to do this.

Mr. PAUL BUERSTETTA: He was a strong-willed, good-natured, compassionate kind of person. And he was going to take care of his friends.

Ms. BUERSTETTA: Just as we hoped he said that he'll take care of all of us.

Mr. BUERSTETTA: That's what he did.

Ms. BUERSTETTA: To the best of his abilities.

HSU: The loss of Buerstetta and 99 others weighs on Colonel Nicholson.

Col. NICHOLSON: As you get older, it just hurts more, because you're always thinking what could I have done, how could I have prevented this, and - and you realize, you just understand how fragile life is.

HSU: The commander added that those who died did not do so in vain. He said Anbar Province is a better place than it was a year ago.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News, San Diego.

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