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Grief widens in Brook Park Latest attack kills 14 reservists from Northeast Ohio battalion



Published: Thu, August 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The residents of Brook Park are devastated by the tragedy, many of them knowing somebody who was killed.

BROOK PARK, Ohio (AP) -- The rash of violence in Iraq this week has taken an especially brutal toll on a Marine battalion based in this working-class town: Nineteen members from the unit were killed over two days.

Grief and anger shook the town as families and residents anxiously awaited answers after learning that 14 Marine reservists were killed Wednesday by a roadside bomb -- one of the heaviest blows suffered by a single unit in the war. Two days earlier, five others from the battalion were killed while on sniper duty.

The sorrow in Brook Park, a Cleveland suburb of 21,000 people, was painfully clear Wednesday among the line of customers sipping their morning coffee at the counter of a doughnut shop down the street from the battalion's headquarters. Nearly everyone at the counter said they knew someone who was connected to the battalion.

"You never know who it could be. It could be your best friend. It could be your husband -- it could be anyone from here," Eleanor Matelski, 69, said as she angrily tore up a paper cup that had held her coffee.

"Tell Bush to get our soldiers out of there now before any more of our soldiers die. This is getting to be ridiculous," she said.

A few steps away, near the gates of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, residents piled red roses, American flags, handwritten notes of condolences and white crosses for the victims.

A town's remembrance

Military officials initially said all six Marines killed Monday were from the Ohio-based unit, but the Pentagon announced Wednesday that Lance Cpl. Roger D. Castleberry Jr., 26, of Austin, Texas, was attached to a Texas-based battalion.

Names of the Marines killed Wednesday were not immediately released, but nine of them came from a smaller Columbus-based company of the battalion, said Master Sgt. Stephen Walter, a spokesman for the company. The battalion was activated in January and went to Iraq in March.

Military officials told the families of Lance Cpl. Edward Schroeder, 23, of Cleveland, Lance Cpl. Timothy Michael Bell Jr., 22, of West Chester in suburban Cincinnati, and Lance Cpl. Brett Wightman, 22, of Sabina, that they were among the Marines who died Wednesday.

"My son was the last of the John Waynes, but tougher," said Timothy Michael Bell Sr., who last talked to his son two weeks ago.

Schroeder's mother, Rosemary Palmer, said she and her husband were talking about plans to attend funerals of the reservists killed Monday when the Marines came to tell her family about her son's death.

Palmer said her son joined the military in 2002 despite her opposition -- she wouldn't even let him play with toy guns while he was growing up.

"He was persuaded that if he joined the Marines he would get a new sense of purpose," Palmer said.

A Marine officer, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said the attack occurred as troops were traveling in an armored amphibious vehicle to assault insurgent positions around a village near the Haditha dam, a longtime way station for foreign fighters infiltrating Iraq from Syria.

Suddenly, a thunderous explosion rang out and the vehicle flipped over in a fireball, he said. The surviving Marine scrambled from beneath the overturned vehicle, the officer said.

Government reaction

President Bush lamented the deaths of the 14 Marines, calling the attack a "grim reminder" America is still at war.

"These terrorists and insurgents will use brutal tactics because they're trying to shake the will of the United States of America. They want us to retreat," Bush told some 2,000 lawmakers, business leaders and public policy experts in Grapevine, Texas.

The heavy loss of life cast new attention on a longtime Marine complaint -- the lack of protection provided by their armored amphibious vehicles, or AAVs. The vehicles are designed to be dropped from ships for coastal assaults. Although fast and maneuverable, the vehicles have armor plating that is lighter than those used by the Army -- a critical issue in a war where the roadside bomb is the most common threat.

Questionable capture

On Wednesday, the Web site of the Ansar al-Sunnah Army posted photographs from Monday's attack on the Marine sniper team. One picture shows a bloody, battered body wearing Marine camouflage trousers. Another shows two hooded gunmen standing in front of several rifles, apparently taken from dead Marines.

In a statement accompanying the photos, Ansar al-Sunnah said the insurgents lured the Marines out of their base and ambushed them.

"The intention was to capture them alive, but they opened fire on the mujahedeen," the statement said. "The heroes slaughtered those who were still alive ... except for one, who begged the mujahedeen for his life. They captured him and he is in our hands."

At the Pentagon, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, a Pentagon staff officer and former commander of U.S. forces in Mosul, said no Marines were missing and believed captured.

Security concerns

U.S. officials have long complained that American forces seize Sunni areas only to have Iraqi authorities lose them again to the insurgents once American troops leave. Despite those complaints, the Bush administration is talking about handing more security responsibility to the Iraqis and drawing down forces next year.

At least 1,821 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, was first activated May 1, 1943, and fought in several battles in World War II. It helped capture a key airfield at the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. Before this week's dead, the unit's Web site listed 25 of its Marines had been killed this year.

The battalion has units in Brook Park, Columbus, Akron, Moundsville, W.Va., and Buffalo, N.Y. The West Virginia unit said it had none of the casualties.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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