As the dead are named, sadness, shock take hold

The Casualties

December 23, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

RICHMOND, Va. - At King George High School, where he graduated two years ago, Nick Mason ran cross country, was captain of the school wrestling team and always knew the answer when asked what he wanted to do after school: serve in the military.

And so he did. Mason, who served in the Virginia Army National Guard while attending Virginia Tech on a scholarship, was one of 22 people, including 13 U.S. troops, killed Tuesday in what authorities said yesterday was an apparent suicide bombing at the American military base near the northern Iraq city of Mosul.

Spc. Nicholas Mason, part of the 276th Engineer Battalion based here, was 20 years old. Joseph Pociask, the principal of the high school in his hometown in rural northeastern Virginia, called him a great kid and true hero.

"He always stood up for what he believed in. He was patriotic. He loved his school. He loved his community - and you probably have a whole lot of other kids over there who are just like him," Pociask said last night. "We're all very sad here. ... This is small-town America. This is not supposed to happen."

As military officials pieced together a clearer picture of one of the deadliest single attacks on Americans since the start of the war, families and hometowns across the country grieved for the dead - 13 military and five U.S. civilian contractors as well as three members of Iraqi security forces and one unknown person not from the United States.

Days before Christmas

The horrible loss was made worse by the timing of the attack, four days before Christmas, and the apparent method that authorities outlined yesterday of a stealth suicide attacker who had mingled unnoticed in the makeshift tented mess hall in the moments before the attack.

In Maine, Gov. John Baldacci identified two soldiers from the Maine Army National Guard's 133rd Engineer Battalion who were killed.

One was a young soldier like Mason - Spc. Thomas John Dostie, 20, of Somerville, Maine - the other was a shipbuilder and father of two grown children, Sgt. Lynn Robert Poulin Sr., 47, from Freedom, Maine.

Baldacci called the two soldiers "heroes to their families, to the state, and to the nation."

He ordered flags in the state to be flown at half-staff to honor Dostie and Poulin on the days of their funerals.

The Houston-based defense contractor Halliburton Co. said it lost four American employees in Tuesday's attack.

Company spokeswoman Wendy Hall identified the four victims as Leslie W. Davis, 53, of Magnolia, Texas; Allen Smith, 45, of Rosharon, Texas; Brett A. Hunter, 29, of Chickasaw, Ala.; and Anthony M. Stramiello Jr., of Astoria, Ore., who at age 61 was drawn to Iraq by his carpentry skills and what the company described in a statement as "a passion for adventure."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and for all of our employees and subcontractors who are working in this extremely dangerous environment," Hall said.

The Pentagon last night had not officially released the names of any of the troops killed Tuesday, pending notification of all family members and a 24-hour waiting period.

Many of the soldiers who died are expected to be part of the Fort Lewis, Wash.-based 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division.

One other member of Virginia's 276th Unit also was killed, but authorities last night had not identified the soldier.

Relatives of others in the unit said they understood that the second victim was young, like Mason, and from Stafford County, just west of King George County, where Mason grew up and where his father, Victor Mason, is the county court clerk.

Nancy Morgan, of Fredericksburg, Va., said that when she spoke to her husband in Mosul early yesterday, he said he could not tell her the names of the victims, but he told her he had been close to each of the young soldiers and was heartbroken by their deaths.

Final goodbye

Late on the day of the attacks, Staff Sgt. Greg Morgan helped tend to the dead by carefully moving the bodies to the military vehicles that marked the start of their journey home, his wife said.

"He did tell me he helped them put, I guess it was the 18 [American] bodies on a truck last night, and he touched the two he knew - to say goodbye," Nancy Morgan said. "It's a pretty bad situation over there. ... I can't imagine what their families are going through."

Patricia Otto of Williamsburg, Va., said yesterday that her husband, Lt. Shawn Otto of the 276th, had considered it a point of pride that the unit had made it nearly a year in Iraq without losing a soldier.

"And now they have to turn around and say, they almost made it - I know he's got a lot on his mind, and a lot on his heart," Patricia Otto said. "I know I cried a lot of tears yesterday, mostly for the families who now won't have soldiers coming home to them."

About 525 soldiers from the Virginia's 276th are in Iraq. The unit was deployed almost exactly a year before Tuesday's bloody strike, on Dec. 18, 2003.

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