One Day, Four Soldiers and the War in Iraq

March 14, 2004|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,SUN STAFF

On May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush declared an end to combat in Iraq. It was a watershed moment in a war that was just six weeks old, a powerful image that conveyed triumph: The commander in chief stood on the flight deck of the world's largest warship, the banner behind him proclaiming "Mission Accomplished." Thousands of bright-faced men and women, at sea for nearly 10 months, cheered euphorically about going home after the longest deployment of an aircraft carrier since the Vietnam War.

On the same day, however, violent outbursts were reported in Baghdad and Fallujah -- shadows which would darken the meaning of May 1 in the months to come, as the occupation of Iraq claimed more American lives than the war's combat phase.

Before May 1.

After May 1.

That day became the public reference point for the war. This week, as America reflects on the war's first anniversary, that day continues to resonate, not only in the nation's memory, but in private stories that illuminate the consequences of sending troops into battle.

On May 1, 2003, a college student took an oath that would determine his future.

A wife opened her door to visitors she had prayed never to see.

A Marine received a gift of unexpected good fortune.

A military police officer began learning what it means to be a hero.

History will remember May 1 as the day on which an American war reached a turning point. But for four soldiers and their families, it marks more personal milestones.

For them, the day reflects what is eternal about war: how it sweeps through a moment in time and forever alters the lives it touches.

STORIES BEGIN ON PAGE 6

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