Iraq's toll on Maryland

Families and friends deal with life after the deaths of their loved ones

December 31, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy and Nicole Fuller | Sun Reporters

They are constantly reminded. The bold headlines in the newspapers. The fuzzy images on television. All bearing news of yet another casualty, another American soldier fallen in Iraq.

More than 3 1/2 years have passed, 3 1/2 years since the war in Iraq began, claiming nearly 3,000 American lives and leaving behind spouses, bereaved mothers and fathers, and children too young to understand.

About 60 U.S. servicemen and -women with ties to Maryland have died. Young and old, black and white, men and women.

They are grieved for every day. A mother whispers at her son's gravesite every Sunday. A father leaves his daughter's cell phone number programmed in his cell phone -- just because. A Marine wears the ashes of his best friend in a necklace close to his heart.

Some are angry, ready for the war to end, joining protests and even running for political office to push for change. Others hold steadfast to the belief that their children did not die in vain, that there is a greater good that will come from all the war and bloodshed.

Most of all, they say, there is a sadness that strikes suddenly and sharply -- and never seems to subside.

Army Spc. Toccara R. Green, 23, of Rosedale died when explosives detonated near her supply convoy in Al Asad, in western Iraq, on Aug. 14, 2005. She was the first Maryland female combat death in Iraq.

The basement of his Rosedale home is like a museum to his daughter, says Garry Green, 47.

Here is where he keeps Army Spc. Toccara Green's citations and pictures; her uniform even hangs on amannequin.

He and his wife transport the stuff to fundraisers and parties where they raise money for a scholarship foundation for Baltimore and Baltimore County high school students. Toccara Green grew up in the city and graduated from Forest Park High School.

"That is how we honor her and [keep] her memory alive," Green says.

Green says he believes the country should never have invaded Iraq to begin with. And now, while he wants the troops to hurry home, he cannot help but also feel that they cannot leave the Iraqi people stranded when "we stirred up a hornet's nest."

Despite the country's mistake, he is comfortable knowing that his daughter died doing something she enjoyed. While he never talked to her about her feelings on the war, he knew that she loved being in the Army. "She was very obedient," he says. "She was adamant about doing her job. She died for something that she loved doing, not for the war itself."

Now, Green says, he is trying to balance letting go and not wanting to forget. "I cannot dwell on it too long. But I do not want to forget her. I just want the pain to go away. There is just so much pain to get rid of, and it just lingers around."

A former city detective, he retired last year because he could not focus on knocking on doors and serving arrest warrants. Now he does home improvement and real estatework.

Knocking on doors, he says, brought back flashes of the phone calls he would receive from his daughter from Iraq. "That is what I miss," he says. "No more phone calls. I still keep her cell phone. And I got her cell phone number locked in my phone. Just a constant reminder.

"Sometimes you just do not want to let go."

Marine Lance Cpl. Norman W. Anderson III, 21, of Parkton was killed Oct. 19, 2005, by a suicide car bomb during combat in Karabilah.

Marine Cpl. Joshua D. Snyder, 20, of Hampstead died Nov. 30, 2005, of wounds suffered during combat in Fallujah.

They were three young men, high school friends and classmates, graduating together in 2002. But most of all, they were fellow football players in a community where football reigns. They played for the Hereford Bulls.

Only Grant Hemmerly is still alive, a corporal in the Marine Corps back from Iraq in April, though he expects that he will have one more tour.

"We hung out all the time, partied, played football, joined the Marines," says Hemmerly, 23. "We did it all."

Hemmerly and Anderson were especially tight, best friends since the ninth grade. Hemmerly was in Anderson's wedding party, which took place shortly before he was deployed. Now he keeps his best friend's ashes in a locket he wears around his neck.

The deaths of the football players struck the whole community hard, says Steve Turnbaugh, 47, coach of the football team. There was a bull roast for a joint scholarship fund in the spring that thousands showed up to, he says. "The impact those two young men had on the entire community showed -- for that many people to come out."

Turnbaugh keeps both of their Marine portraits in his office. "They are the first things I see when I turn my lights on," he says. "And I will never, ever take those down."

He retired both of their jerseys, which are encased in glass and mounted in the school's gymnasium. "As long as this conflict goes on, you are never going to forget, especially as you watch the news at night, and you hear about other casualties," he says. "Every time, it hits home."

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