A deadly month, a wave of mourning

U.S. records its 4th-worst month in Iraq

November 01, 2006|By Ellen Barry, David Zucchino and P.J. Huffstutter | Ellen Barry, David Zucchino and P.J. Huffstutter,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WELLSBORO, PA. -- Four were teenagers. Thirty were 21 or younger. The oldest was 53. They left homes in big cities, small prairie towns and Southern hamlets to answer the call of duty in Iraq, where 104 soldiers, Marines, airmen and seamen died in October, the war's fourth-deadliest month and the worst since January 2005.

On the final day of October, Sgt. 1st Class Tony Knier, who needed his mother's permission to join the Army at age 16, was memorialized amid the hills of central Pennsylvania. His mother and his widow were there, along with dozens of relatives, friends and stooped old veterans who whispered words of comfort into his widow's ear.

The casket was closed. Knier, 31, was killed Oct. 21 by a roadside bomb that fractured his skull. On a day when the American death toll in Iraq stood at 2,815, there was talk at the Knier memorial of the futility of the war. Family and friends are divided on that issue but united on what serving in Iraq meant to Knier.

His widow, Bobbi Knier, who met Tony when she was a 16-year-old cheerleader, said her husband "wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else." She spoke without tears. "My husband," she said, "he's awesome, he's Army."

Fred Audinwood, 78, a white-haired Korean War veteran who lost a brother in World War II, tried to reassure the widow. "This death thing is a price we have to pay," he told her.

The price has been paid each month since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. This October was deadlier than most, the Pentagon said, in part because more American troops have been diverted to Baghdad, where Iraqi security forces have been unable to control sectarian violence.

Most of October also coincided with Ramadan, the Islamic holy month. During that month, insurgents have intensified attacks in recent years.

The October total could increase because the Pentagon sometimes delays announcing combat deaths.

There were scenes of finality this week in many towns where graves were fresh or where burial ceremonies were being planned.

In Aurora, Ill., on Monday, American flags held by volunteers snapped in a cold wind outside San Pablo Evangelical Lutheran Church as mourners said farewell to Marine sniper Eduardo "Eddy" Lopez, 21. Lopez, a private, survived Afghanistan but was killed Oct. 19 during combat in Iraq's Anbar province, an insurgent stronghold.

Before he left for Iraq, Lopez had come to the church of his childhood for one more service. Afterward, he sought out the Rev. Alex Merlo and asked for his blessing.

"He said: `If something happens to me, if I die in war, take me back to our church. Make sure I get home,'" Merlo recalled.

The clergyman kept his promise. Lopez was back at San Pablo Monday, inside a flag-draped silver casket.

In Portland, Ore., a bugler sounded taps and uniformed men fired rifles Monday to honor Staff Sgt. Ronald Lee Paulson, a civil affairs officer and Army reservist who was killed Oct. 17 by a roadside bomb. He was 53, the oldest American to die in Iraq in October.

His widow, Beverly Paulson, sat silently at graveside at Willamette National Cemetery, on a hill high above the city. She accepted a folded flag as bagpipes sounded a dirge.

In Apex, N.C., the family of Maj. David G. Taylor Jr. filed into a red-brick funeral home yesterday to plan his services, scheduled for tomorrow. Taylor, 37, was the highest-ranking serviceman to die in October. He was killed when a roadside bomb exploded next to his Humvee in Baghdad Oct. 22 as he trained new arrivals.

Taylor was able to take a mid-tour leave to be present when his wife, Michelle, gave birth to the couple's first child, Jacob, now 4 months old. His family asked well-wishers, in lieu of flowers, to thank a soldier, police officer or firefighter for service to their country.

In Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., the death of Capt. Mark Paine left his mother deeply conflicted. Paine, 32, died when a roadside bomb was detonated next to his Humvee Oct. 15 near Taji, north of Baghdad.

"Am I proud?" Kairyn Paine, 56, said, sighing. "Yes, of course, but what does this say about our strategy over there?"

Paine, once a staunch supporter of President Bush, said she has undergone "a complete change of heart as I've watched the failed strategy unfold." Her son was troubled by the way the war has divided the country, she said, but he never questioned his commander in chief's strategy.

Roger Paine, 63, called his son a warrior who "died doing exactly what he wanted to do."

Mark Paine had left a hospital - where he had been recuperating from a concussion caused by a roadside bomb - to join his unit when he heard the soldiers were engaged in intense fighting, his mother said. He was one of 10 officers and one of 10 Californians killed in Iraq in October.

In Michigan, Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm ordered all flags in the state lowered to honor two Michigan Marines, Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Manoukian, 22, and Lance Cpl. Clifford R. Collinsworth, 20, who were killed Oct. 21 when their Humvee struck a roadside bomb.

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