Town Mourns Fallen Marines
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JIM LEHRER: Now, an Ohio town honors its Marines killed in Iraq, more than a dozen last week alone. Betty Ann Bowser has our report. (Bagpipes playing)
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Several thousand people came to an arena in Brook Park, Ohio, last night to remember the Marines from the Third Battalion, 25th Regiment, who’ve died since the war began.
GOV. BOB TAFT, Ohio: Ohioans one and all mourn our heroes fallen in a cause greater than themselves.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Most of the fallen had ties to Brook Park, where their third battalion is headquartered. Many of them came from small towns and cities all over Ohio. (Applause)
In a matter of days last week, large numbers of Marine reservists were killed in separate incidents in Iraq. And with that news, the war got personal for the residents of this suburban community.
SPOKESMAN: Congressman Kucinich.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich represents the Brook Park area.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: War can be so impersonal, yet when we put a name, a face, a place and match it to families, when we look through the catalogue of memories, those memories become sacred treasures, and then war is not impersonal.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Brook Park is a city of 21,000 people near Cleveland. It’s a blue collar town, where people have worked at the Ford plant for generations. Many served in the Marine Reserves and the Ohio Army National Guard, which is also based here. When residents learned last week that one roadside bomb killed a large number of Marines, they started flying flags at half staff in their front yards, in their windows and up and down the streets.
MAYOR MARK ELLIOT: I’m concerned because there’s only so many seats and I want to make sure that they all, especially those vets and the families….
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Brook Park Mayor Mark Elliot says his city has been devastated by the loss of life. He’s also been overwhelmed with expressions of sympathy, with e-mails and phone calls coming from all over the world.
MAYOR MARK ELLIOT: This experience has been like none other that I’ve ever experienced. Each day, I will get… have that interaction with our residents who, who want to help somehow. They, they want to reach out. They want to touch somebody. They want to be, they want to be a part of it.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Paul Schroeder and Rosemary Palmer have found comfort in the outpouring of sympathy. Their 23-year-old son, Lance Corporal Edward “Auggy” Schroeder, died last week along with a number of other Marines when their amphibious vehicle hit a roadside bomb near Haditha.
ROSEMARY PALMER: He could be one of your sons. He could be the kid next door. He was not the kid who’s the top of his class. He’s not the kid who was going to go to Harvard or the like. He’s just a regular kid.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Auggy Schroeder loved being part of a group. In college, he was a fraternity boy. He was a football player, and he loved being a Marine. But the reality of being called to active duty in Iraq was something else.
PAUL SCHROEDER: When he first got there, he talked about the discomfort he had in going into someone, some Iraqi’s home, where they were treating them very friendly, and the Iraqis were offering them bread and sandwiches and very good food. Meanwhile, they had to, to go through their effects and their belongings, looking for weapons or whoever. That was…
BETTY ANN BOWSER: He didn’t like that?
PAUL SCHROEDER: Well, he was uncomfortable about it, but he knew it was his job.
ROSEMARY PALMER: Because they’re being so hospitable and so nice. Then he’s saying…
PAUL SCHROEDER: And they weren’t.
ROSEMARY PALMER: “Okay, now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go rip through all your stuff.”
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Schroeder’s parents said they began to worry when their son e-mailed them that his unit was doing the same operations over and over again in an area of Iraq known to be crawling with insurgents.
PAUL SCHROEDER: They were in Haditha three times clearing it out. Well, it didn’t work. Either we, we send in enough troops and material to do the job that we think needs to be done, or we stop doing it.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Schroeders said they felt U.S. policy in Iraq wasn’t working for a long time but didn’t say anything because they didn’t want to appear unpatriotic. Now, all that’s changed.
PAUL SCHROEDER: My family has been violated, and I am angry. We have to discuss the fact that 27 months of trying the same thing and expecting a different result is insanity. These people have never had democracy. So the vacuum is there, and I don’t think our leaders gave that any thought.
ROSEMARY PALMER: But, on the other hand, we don’t think he died in vain, because if you just said that because he died in the war that we didn’t agree with, he died in vain, he didn’t. He died doing what he felt was necessary, and what more can a man do than die doing what he feels is right?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Auggy Schroeder is one of the Ohio Marines remembered at what has now come to known as “The Fence.” After 9/11, it was a way to keep people out of the Third Battalion headquarters, but now it serves to bring people in so they can mourn. Brook Park resident Diane McCluskey didn’t know any of the Marines who died, but she brought her dad and three children to pay tribute.
DIANE McCLUSKEY: For me, honestly, you know, it touches me, all the people who are over there fighting and putting their lives on the line, how frightened they must be, how frightened their families are every day that they’re gone.
My own brother being in the last war, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law being ready to ship out, you know, for months, they were down in South Carolina. And to know it could be them and to know how I would have felt, I understand how their families are feeling right now. And so my heart goes out to them.
RICHARD LABUDA: I was pulling in the driveway and I started tearing up. It’s a bunch of young people that did this for us. And I feel sorry for their parents, and what are their brothers and sisters, wives, what are they going through? It’s sad, very sad.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Every day, hundreds of people come to The Fence. Many bring their children and try to explain what it’s all about. They’ve left mementos, pictures of the Marines, a note to the Marine families. This stuffed eagle was left by a little girl who used her entire week’s allowance to buy it.
Dan Maust is an Ohio native from a nearby town who supports the war in Iraq, but says until last week he didn’t think much about it.
DAN MAUST: Seeing their names and there’s a lot of connections. There’s a guy from Ohio State, where I graduated from, and there’s a guy who played football at Normandy and that’s right around the corner, you know, in Parma. And just the connections that, you know, you personally feel when you see different things like that.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bill and Dee Hartmann are from Cincinnati. They support the troops, but have recently changed their minds about the war.
BILL HARTMANN: We toppled Saddam. We toppled his government. Now it’s just going to be a civil war over there, and I don’t think we need to be involved in it.
DEE HARTMANN: Now we’re losing too many at a time. I feel sorry for them over there now. You know, I think they, like he said, I think they’ve done what they went over there to do, and to have to keep going back, it’s starting, it’s not our place, you know. I mean, I think we need to get out and let them build themselves again.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Mike and Alice Walsh released white pigeons to honor the Marines.
MIKE WALSH: I don’t agree with the war 100 percent, but we have to finish the job we went in to do; we’re not finished yet, you have to go on and finish the task. You know, it’s like starting to paint a garage, you don’t paint half of it, you paint the whole thing. So, we have to do our job, I guess.
ALICE WALSH: We all feel bad (sobbing) but you have to look at… these men and women are over there, and they believed in their country. If they didn’t believe in their country, they wouldn’t be here. There’s no draft.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Over the weekend, the bodies of the Marines killed this month started coming home. They’re being returned to small towns and cities all over Ohio, where similar plans are being made to honor the dead. (Music)