With a mournful rendition of taps, several hundred Marines said farewell Wednesday to three colleagues who survived combat duty in Iraq only to die in a traffic accident in Oceanside.
Col. D.G. Reist told those assembled in the Marine Memorial Chapel on the sprawling San Diego County base that Marines "take comfort in the knowledge that grief is shared and understood."
Pvt. Michael Anthony A. Newton, 19, of Mecklenburg, Va.; Lance Cpl. Chad N. Garner, 20, of Washington, Pa.; and Cpl. Scott A. Stasney, 21, of Marathon, Wis., were killed in a crash about 12:15 a.m. Sunday in Oceanside.
The three were part of the 1st Transport Support Battalion that was responsible for moving troops and supplies from Kuwait to Baghdad to support combat troops.
The unit returned to the United States in July.
Marines assigned to the battalion drove the unit's 700-plus vehicles more than 1.3 million miles, often at night with lights off for security, often over rutted, twisting roads, and through areas thick with Iraqi soldiers and mercenaries eager to ambush a Marine convoy.
Still, the battalion had only one fatality, in a traffic accident, Reist said.
That more Marines from the battalion should die on a road in Oceanside than on the roads of a country at war is difficult to accept, said Reist, the battalion commander.
"The answers aren't there, and there are no words," he said.
Marines who had known the three shared remembrances that stretched from boot camp to training bases to Baghdad.
"I'm going to miss his friendship, a fellow Marine," Cpl. Jason Weisenburg said of Garner.
"I looked at him as a brother," Lance Cpl. Steve Gelles said of Newton.
"He was a real Marine," Chief Warrant Officer Clint Bickle said of Stasney. "He did exactly what he was told and then some."
Speaking as if Stasney were nearby, Bickle added, "You will not be forgotten."
He then gave a crisp salute to the three helmets that had been placed symbolically on the chapel's altar.