Thursday, July 03, 2003
As attacks and accidents continue in Iraq, America quietly passes 200th casualty
By ANGIE WAGNER
Associated Press Writer
They were men with military dreams - husbands, sons and fathers from proud communities and doting families.
One had a mischievous grin, another sang in the church choir. Some wanted to be teachers or police officers, while one dreamed of being a pastor and another a smokejumping firefighter. One relished showing his fellow soldiers how to milk a cow.
It has been two months since President Bush declared the end of major combat, but still the casualties come - at least 63 U.S. troops have died since that announcement, at least 38 of them since Memorial Day, and more than 200 in all. Some were killed in combat, some in accidents, or friendly fire, or illness.
While ''Taps'' and ''Amazing Grace'' continue to play at funerals across the country, some of the fallen troops' families wonder if the sacrifices are recognized as much now as during the height of war.
''Most everybody seems to be ignoring it,'' said Debra Deuel, a retired Air Force and Gulf War veteran whose son, Army Pfc. Michael Deuel, was shot to death June 18 while on guard duty in Baghdad.
''Our boys are still over there, and they are still in danger. The president never did say the war was over. They misunderstood what he said,'' she said.
Always a daredevil, Michael Deuel wanted to learn parachuting in the military and eventually become a smokejumping firefighter. He loved to bowl and read, and called the San Diego Chargers and Padres his favorite teams. He grew up in Cheyenne, Wyo., and was a member of the Army's 325th infantry regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Kelli Broomhead can't bring herself to look at her husband's things in their Fort Carson, Colo., home. She refuses to open a closet or drawers. Instead, she tells herself her husband is coming home.
Army Sgt. Thomas F. Broomhead was killed May 27 at a checkpoint in Fallujah when two Iraqis stepped from their car and opened fire. He had been deployed only since April 6, the couple's anniversary.
A devoted Colorado Rockies and Denver Broncos fan, Broomhead, 34, also loved karaoke. His wife used to tease him about his last name, and then it became hers, too, in 2000. Her three young sons called him Dad, and always received individual letters from him.
The memories comfort her, especially the picture he took of himself before leaving for Iraq. He captured his own mischievous smile, and Kelli hung the photo in their home. The day after his death, a Mother's Day card arrived, full of compliments from her husband.
For some soldiers, like Army Pfc. Branden Oberleitner, it was the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that compelled them to join the military.
On June 5, the 20-year-old from Worthington, Ohio, was killed and five other soldiers wounded when they were fired on by a rifle-propelled grenade in Fallujah.
''Branden did not die because of God's will, but because men and women hate too much and love too little,'' the Rev. Alan Sippel told mourners at his funeral.
The Sept. 11 attacks also motivated Pfc. Kevin Ott to enlist, and the 27-year-old's father says he wasn't afraid of dying. ''He absolutely loved Army life,'' said Charles Ott, of Orient, Ohio.
Ott and Sgt. 1st Class Gladimir Philippe, 37, of Roselle, N.J., were reported missing June 25 after last being seen at their post 25 miles north of Baghdad. Their bodies were discovered three days later near Baghdad as the American death toll topped 200.
Ott's sister, Pam Condo, remembered the time her brother gave her a ride on his beloved motorcycle.
''I was afraid because I knew he loved to go really fast, but to my surprise, he went really slow because he knew I was scared,'' she said.
Philippe's father brought his family to New York from Haiti in 1970 and moved to New Jersey two years later. The eldest of nine children, Philippe entered the Army in 1988 and served in the Gulf War.
He called home nearly every week to counsel his youngest brother, who looked up to the veteran soldier as a role model and best friend.
The Army ''was something (Gladimir) chose to do,'' said Fedlyn Philippe, 16. ''He always told me not to join. He told me to play basketball and keep my head strong and don't worry about girls, and to do good in school.''
It was Cpl. Gavin Neighbor's dedication and sense of humor that endeared him to his fellow soldiers. Some paratroopers already home from Iraq felt guilty that their friend had died, Neighbor's uncle, Mike Bonham, said.
''I thanked them for helping make him what he was,'' Bonham said. ''And they said, 'He helped make us what we are.' ''
Neighbor, 20, knew he wanted to be an elite soldier. The Somerset, Ohio, resident also joined the Army after the terrorist attacks. He made it through Airborne training and joined the 82nd, one of the most storied units in American military history.
He had been accepted to Ranger school, but turned it down to deploy to the Middle East. On June 10, he was killed in Baghdad by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Martha Pokorny's husband, Army Staff Sgt. Andrew Pokorny, based at Fort Carson, was on his way back from patrol June 13 when his M113 armored personnel carrier went over a 4-foot drop-off on a roadside, causing the vehicle to roll over. Eight other soldiers were injured.
''Everybody thinks that everything's OK now and it's not,'' she said. ''He's the 10th one to be killed from Fort Carson. We know it's real.''
Pokorny, 30, also left behind three children.
Some soldiers, such as Marine Sgt. Jonathan W. Lambert, always knew they would serve in the military.
From Iraq, the married father of a 2-year-old daughter sent an e-mail to his hometown newspaper, The Banner-Independent of Booneville, Miss. He wanted to tell the town about Iraq, the Marines and what it took to defend freedom.
''I'm not writing to you to toot the horns for the Marine Corps,'' Lambert wrote, ''but many people look at the big picture and forget what it took to make it.
''It takes people dedicated to protect this nation. I have respect for all services, law enforcement and especially the firemen. We know that this is more than a job, we do it for our children, grandchildren, friends and family.
''To make sure,'' he wrote, ''that their future will be protected as ours is today.''
Lambert, 28, died June 1 from injuries suffered in a Memorial Day Humvee accident in southern Iraq.
EDITOR'S NOTE - Angie Wagner is the AP's Western regional writer, based in Las Vegas.