Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

GUY RAZ, Host:

One group of troops just back from Afghanistan has been hit hard. A single unit from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment lost 13 of its members during its recent deployment there.

NPR's been following that unit over the past year. And yesterday, Catherine Welch of member station WHQR attended a memorial service at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for the fallen Marines.

CATHERINE WELCH: Corporal Nicholas Xiarhos wasn't supposed to be in Afghanistan this summer. But when President Obama came to this Marine Corps base in February, Xiarhos knew then he wanted to serve in Afghanistan.

STEVEN XIARHOS: He had met President Obama here at Camp Lejeune, shook his hand when he came and gave the speech, and that helped motivate him. He wanted to go, so he switched battalions.

WELCH: Xiarhos' father, Steven, has a portrait of his son tattooed on his right forearm. The last time he saw Nicholas was when he sent him off to war.

XIARHOS: And, you know, the last time I touched him was here, you know, at Camp Lejeune on May 15. I'll never forget it. And gave him a huge hug, and he crushed me.

WELCH: Back then, Xiarhos had a bad feeling that he might have to return to Camp Lejeune for a more formal goodbye.


WELCH: On the stage of an auditorium, a spotlight moves down the line of 13 portraits standing behind 13 rifles draped with the helmet, boots and dog tags of the 13 fallen.


WELCH: The sobs of grieving parents punctuate the service, while many of the Marines listen with their heads in their hands.

There are a thousand Marines and family members packed inside this hall here at Camp Lejeune. It's been two weeks since the unit came home from Afghanistan. During the eulogy, their Chaplin Terry Roberts fights his emotions.

TERRY ROBERTS: We may be asking ourselves, why did this happen? Why did some return safely, why others did not? Excuse me. Sometimes there just isn't a right answer.

WELCH: And sometimes there's the guilt of not doing enough.

CHRISTIAN CABANNIS: I do not expect to be forgiven for my failure.

WELCH: That's Lieutenant Colonel Christian Cabannis, the commanding officer of the battalion addressing his Marines.

CABANNIS: I alone will carry the responsibility for the losses of the battalion. For each of you who were with our angels on the field of battle, you do not have that worry. I know that you did everything possible for your brothers, even at the risk of your own lives.


WELCH: The ceremony ends with a farewell as families and Marines walked down the line of portraits. Colonel Cabannis stops at each one, pressing his hand on each helmet and lowering his head.

For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch.


Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.