U.S. Soldiers In Iraq Mark Memorial Day
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
In Iraq today, the 95,000 U.S. troops still stationed there marked Memorial Day with somber ceremonies around the country. Some 4,400 U.S. service members have lost their lives in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro went to two commemorations in Baghdad, and sent this report.
Unidentified Man: Present, arms.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: At 9 a.m. at Forward Operating Base Union in Baghdad's Green Zone, a few dozen soldiers came together to mark Memorial Day. The flag was raised and then lowered to half-mast in honor of America's fallen. Everyone observed a moment of silence.
POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Barbero's rank is lieutenant general.
Iraq has faded from the headlines. The U.S. mission is winding down. By summer's end, if all goes according to plan, the U.S. force will be cut in half. But for many here, including Major General Michael Barbero, who has spent a total of 36 months serving in Iraq, the memories of those who have died here live on.
Lieutenant General MICHAEL BARBERO (Commander, Multi-National Security Transition Command): Stories of sacrifice are often highlighted in our society for only a short period of time. Over time, the power of their example fades. The strength of their sacrifice diminishes, and the nobility of their service is forgotten. And this is why Memorial Day is so important, for on Memorial Day, as a nation, we pause to honor and celebrate our veterans and to remember.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thirty-seven-year-old Major Leticia Bryant(ph) was also in attendance. This is her first tour. She says she wants her friends and family back home to remember what this day is really about.
Major LETICIA BRYANT: I posted on my Facebook account. I was like, you know, before you guys head off for your long weekend or fire up those grills, you know, just take a moment to think about those families that won't be with their loved ones because, you know, they've laid down their lives for you to have these, you know, these freedoms. And so you got to remember that. So I posted that on my site.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The main ceremony today was in the afternoon, at a former palace of Saddam Hussein.
(Soundbite of musical piece, "Taps")
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Many of the soldiers, airmen and Marines here are on their third and fourth tours to Iraq.
Lieutenant General Robert Cone spoke to the assembled men and women, noting that for them, Memorial Day is not abstract.
Lieutenant General ROBERT CONE (Deputy Commanding General for Operations, U.S. Army): In this time of war, we cannot escape the fact that those - that of those we remember today, many we knew personally. As fellow service members, their loss is a loss like that of a brother or sister. Little compares to the loss of a brother in arms. Our memories of them, and the bonds we formed with them, will never fade.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So far this year, 30 U.S. service members have died in Iraq. That is dramatically down from the heights of 2006 to 2007. But Iraq is still far from safe.
Command Master Chief Mark Moore is with the Coast Guard.
Command Master Chief MARK MOORE (U.S. Coast Guard): In the last four days, I've been in three rocket attacks. So things are still going on. So...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Moore says marking Memorial Day in Baghdad is important because it reminds the people here that thousands have shed blood and lost lives fighting in this war.
C/MC MOORE: I think it wakes people up a little bit, and makes them realize how real things are around here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is sobering to remember, he says, that more Americans will die before the mission is through.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.
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