Residents grieve over death of Marine in Iraq

Anne Arundel man killed by fellow soldiers' mistake

War In Iraq

April 19, 2003|By Lynn Anderson, Ryan Davis and Amanda J. Crawford | Lynn Anderson, Ryan Davis and Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Standing in a dusty square in Baghdad, Marine Cpl. Jason David Mileo watched as a symbol of Saddam Hussein's brutal regime - a metal statue of the dictator - was toppled by American troops and broken apart by an angry mob.

For the young soldier and former Pasadena resident, it was a pride-filled and patriotic moment, one he shared by using a reporter's satellite phone to leave a message at his parents' home in Centreville on the Eastern Shore.

"You could tell from his voice there was a lot of excitement," Mileo's grandfather, Walter J. Hall of Pasadena, recalled yesterday. "He was right there in the square."

Mileo's jubilant message was the last his parents, Phillip and Leah Hall, heard from him. They were informed this week that their son had been shot and killed in the same city he helped liberate, the apparent victim of a case of mistaken identity.

"Jason's death at this late stage of the war was a tremendous shock," Hall said, adding that as the fighting waned, relatives had toasted his expected return. "It's harder because we were looking forward to the end of hostilities."

A report released Thursday by the Department of the Defense stated that Mileo was shot when he was mistaken for an enemy soldier.

Mileo's death - he is the third serviceman from Maryland to die in the Iraq war - is under investigation.

During his stay in Iraq, Mileo endured - and survived - intense fighting, a Marine spokesman said.

He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, which is based at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in San Bernardino County, Calif.

Mileo's battalion, part of the 7th Regimental Combat Battalion, led the charge through Iraq on March 19.

"This 7th Regimental Combat team was one of the major players on the chessboard," said spokesman Maj. Matt McLaughlin.

Mileo's battalion arrived in Kuwait shortly after Christmas and crossed into Iraq at the outset of war a month ago, McLaughlin said. It moved from the Ramallah oil fields - a key position U.S. forces gained control of early in the war - northwest to Nasiriyah. There, Mileo and other Marines engaged in some of the war's heaviest fighting.

From Nasiriyah, Mileo and his battalion followed a branch of the Euphrates River toward Kut, where they crossed the Tigris River and turned northwest toward Baghdad.

After toppling the Hussein statue with a wire noose, his regiment helped secure eastern Baghdad, transforming it from a combat zone into one of relative peace.

The regiment remained there yesterday, McLaughlin said.

Mileo's family - split between Centreville and Pasadena - recalled yesterday a young soldier eager to live up to the warrior prowess of the Marines.

"He was very proud to be a Marine," said Hall, Mileo's paternal grandfather, who served as the family's spokesman. "He was drawn to it because of the pride and history of the Corps. He looked at the Marines as being the bravest of the brave."

Mileo, who had been stationed in Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif., Okinawa, and Japan before joining the forces in the gulf, wrote a letter to his grandfather on March 11, a week before the war started.

"You don't realize how good normal food is until you eat in our chow hall," Mileo wrote after receiving a care package from his grandparents. He also teased Hall, who had recently taken up golf again: "When I get back, I will teach you guys a few things about golf."

After the statue episode, and reports that the war was winding down, relatives thought Mileo would be coming home soon. At a recent gathering, they raised glasses to toast a joyous reunion, Hall said.

Hall said the fact that his grandson was killed by friendly fire doesn't take away from the bravery of Mileo's sacrifice.

"Jason put his life down so that liberty could prevail," Hall said. "His death was a noble death, despite the circumstances. ... That is the risk of any war that those things can happen."

Along 204th Street, in a Pasadena neighborhood brimming with flags and yellow ribbons, his maternal grandmother, Margaret Mileo, was too distraught to speak about her grandson. But her grief was evident: A yellow ribbon on the mailbox is now tied over with a black streamer; a Marine Corps flag is stitched with a narrow strip of black fabric.

Mileo's parents, who moved from Pasadena to Centreville in Queen Anne's County a year ago, were unavailable for comment.

Their mobile home - where they are living until their new home is finished - was decorated with yellow ribbons and a bow.

American flags hung from the mailbox and a shed. As wind gusted across the open field, the flags whipped straight, as if at attention. Several vehicles were parked on the driveway, including a green Toyota 4Runner with a Marines sticker displayed in the back window.

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