It was a day that brought tears to family members who had already known tears and searing pain in recent months.
But Julie Cawley Hanson of Ogden, Utah, would not have been anywhere else.
She was at the memorial service Friday for the 35 Marines and four Navy medics from the 1st Marine Division who were killed in Iraq. Among them was Hanson’s brother, Marine Staff Sgt. James Cawley, killed in the first week of the war.
“These Marines and sailors gave up their tomorrows for us, so we could live safely,” said Hanson, as tears filled her eyes. “I would never miss an opportunity to have my brother honored. I want the nation not to forget him, not to forget any one of them.”
More than 22,000 Marines and sailors from the 1st Marine Division were deployed to Iraq. In 22 days of fighting, the Marines swept through numerous villages and towns en route to Baghdad and then 100 miles north to Tikrit, the ancestral home of Saddam Hussein.
At the memorial service, 39 rifles with fixed bayonets had been thrust into the soft earth of the parade ground in front of division headquarters. On each rifle was a helmet, a name and a set of identification tags.
When the prayers, the speeches and the 21-gun salute were over, family members moved slowly toward the rifles for one last look.
“As a father my heart is broken; I want him back every day,” said Dennis Geurin of Santee, whose son, Lance Cpl. Cory Geurin, was killed in mid-July. “But I have no regrets. He died doing what he wanted, doing something he believed in.”
Becky Lambert of Newsite, Miss., showed pictures of her son, Sgt. Jonathan Lambert, to reporters. “He was the love of my life, my only son,” she said. “My son died for his country -- to keep us free.”
Some family members remembered their last phone calls. Alicia Marenco-Reyes got a call from her husband, Cpl. Douglas Marenco-Reyes of Los Angeles, on Mother’s Day. A week later he was dead.
“He was so upbeat,” she said. “He was more worried about me and the kids than about himself.”
Geurin said his son had told him, “I’m a grunt. I’m where I want to be. I’m making a difference in the world.”
Hanson remembered her brother’s premonition before he left for Kuwait that he would never return. A Salt Lake City police officer, Cawley was part of a reservist unit. He could have stayed home but volunteered for duty.
“He gave away all his civilian clothes before he left,” Hanson said. “He knew he would never need them again. He told his wife farewell. He knew he was going to die, but he didn’t want to leave his platoon when they needed him.”
Cawley died when he was run over by a Humvee driven by coalition forces.
“He was sleeping for the first time in seven days when it happened,” Hanson said. He is survived by his wife and two children.
Cawley, who was Mormon, met his wife while on a church mission to Japan. “I know that I’ll see him again someday,” Hanson said. “But it’s so hard to see his children without a father. The cost of freedom is very high.”
Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the division, praised the courage of the dead Marines and sailors: “We marched beside them to destroy an evil. We lost them from our ranks and our family ... but we will never lose them from our hearts.”