07 March 2008

The Fallen are Honored in Historic Ceremony 6 Mar 2008

On 6 March, John Wroblewski, along with USMC Major General Kelly, and PSD Company of the 2-8 Marines performed a historic ceremony honoring 2Lt. J.T. Wroblewski and ten other Marines, and a Navy Corpsman, at the exact site in Ramadi where these brave men lost their lives on 6 April 2004. The list of the fallen is as follows: LCPL Benjamin Carman, LCPL Marcus Cherry, PFC Christopher Cobb, LCPL Kyle Crowley, PFC Deryk Hallal, PFC Ryan Jerabek, PFC Moises Langhorst, LCPL Travis Layfield, HM3 Fernandez Mendez, LCPL Anthony Roberts, SSGT Allan Walker, and 2nd Lt J.T. Wroblewski. This visit is (to my knowledge) the first time that a Gold Star parent has ever performed a ceremony to honor the loss of their son or daughter at the exact site in Iraq where their offspring were KIA. By honoring these heroes, we seek only to bring attention to the fact that those who have fallen in battle must not be forgotten. On the contrary, to forget their sacrifice is to forget that they bravely volunteered, fought and died to defend the very liberties that we freely enjoy in the U.S.

After reading aloud the names of the fallen, a red shirt was ceremoniously placed atop the wall next to where J.T. fell that terrible day. John led the Marines in prayer, after which, Major General Kelly said a few words in tribute to those who perished that day. John then thanked the General and his Marines for helping to make our difficult quest possible. John then requested that the Marines offer an "Ooh-Rah!" for their fallen comrades, which they shouted loudly. The cheer echoed through the narrow alley, and faded away into the palm grove and houses that surrounded us. USMC Combat cameraman Cpl Angel and I recorded the event through photographs and video, and the Marines also took photographs of the memorial site.

As you can imagine, this was a very emotional day for both John and the Marines involved in getting us to this site. We offer our sincere thanks to Major General Kelly and the 2-8 Marines for enabling us to complete our quest during our second embed assignment.

****ADDITIONAL INFO- Posted 28 May 2008 - FOX News (www.foxnews.com) broadcast this historic story using my still images and Cpl Angels' video during a Memorial Day special on 26 May 2008 .*****

The Fallen are Honored - Ramadi 6 Apr 2004

05 March 2008

Images from Anbar

A Few Good Men - 3/1 and 1/4 Marines

Yesterday was by far the best day we've had in Iraq so far. We spent the entire day with the Marines of 3-1 and 1-4, presently stationed in Fallujah. These young men were outstanding in every facet of their interaction with us, and the performance of their duties. From our introduction before dawn until very late in the day, they went out of their way to welcome us, answer any questions we had, look after us (in an unobtrusive manner), and make sure we had whatever we needed during the long day. John and I were total strangers at 5:30 a.m., but were laughing and swapping stories like old friends by dark. Three of the guys even came by to talk and swap pictures last night. They finally left well after most folks go to bed. I consider it an honor and a privilege to have met these men, and they are now our friends.

Even though these guys are outgoing and friendly with us, they are all business when it comes down to performing their jobs. I know the terms "honed to a razor's edge" and "laser focused" might sound like cliches, but even these terms do not do justice to the intensity I saw in these Marines. There was time for joking around, and other moments when you just knew there was no time for talk. When we would climb out of the vehicle, their deadly serious nature was an energy that we could almost feel.

We traveled to an area (Faris) that, only months ago, would have been an extremely dangerous place. Even today, these people have not seen American troops on a constant basis. Most everyone viewed us in a reserved, cautious manner, even the children (at first.) The sergeant in charge asked me if I wanted to walk through the town market. (John was attending a huge luncheon for all the esteemed guests of the mayor!) I eagerly walked down the street with SSG Cazee, accompanied by a couple of his Marines. I honestly felt safer strolling through the market than I do when I work late at night in downtown Atlanta. I stopped once to hand out some Wrigley's spearmint gum, and slowly, a few children came up to accept it. Within a few minutes though, there was a veritable swarm of kids (school had just been dismissed), and I quickly ran out of gum. One of the children was quick to show me a scar on his shoulder from a bullet wound saying, "Ali Baba, Ali Baba" (their slang for bad guys.) SSG Cazee said, "Well, he definitely knows what it like to get shot. That's too bad that a kid had to deal with that."

Afterward, I walked into several shops to check out out their wares. I asked about one item, which the man priced at $2.00, and haggled with him until we agreed on $1.00 (I was told it's customary to bargain with merchants.) In one stall, three sheep were tied to a post, while the leg of a fourth hung from the roof. I was particularly impressed by the colorful, pink storefront (see the photo in yesterday's post.) It was impeccably decorated, and a lot of work had obviously been put into making the shop attractive. There were quite a few shoppers out, but it was far from crowded. The streets were full of children of all ages, as school had apparently just let out for the day. The children seemed happy, were clean and well dressed, and either carried their books or had backpacks (most had backpacks.)

I also saw and photographed a recently completed reconstruction project - a pumping station for irrigation near the Euphrates River. New pumps and Caterpillar generators hummed as the plant irrigated these incredibly fertile fields along the river.

John and I have much more to do before we return home. We're headed out soon to Ramadi, but I am not sure when. We appreciate your prayers very much. Please post any comments you have to the blog. We enjoy hearing your thoughts about what we have seen, and the images I've captured.