Fallen soldiers

Casualties in Iraq, Afghanistan reflect changing face of war, those who fight

Memorial Day

May 26, 2008|By Josh Mitchell and Liz F. Kay | Josh Mitchell and Liz F. Kay,Sun Reporters

The dress blues that Marine Lance Cpl. Norman W. Anderson III wore to his wedding still hang in a bedroom at his parents' Parkton home. Like most of his other belongings, they've gone untouched since the day the 21-year-old was killed in Iraq almost three years ago.

"I cleaned out two drawers and I couldn't do it anymore," said his mother, Robyn Anderson. "It's almost like then admitting it's real. This way I can still pretend he's just still away."

Anderson is one of 77 Marylanders, including 45 from the Baltimore area, who have fallen in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The dead provide a snapshot of sorts of the state: The youngest to die was 19, the oldest 47. They came from places as small as Federalsburg and Cascade, and as large as Baltimore. Most were men, but five were women. Minorities made up more than a third.

Among the Marylanders to die were a 36-year-old former Baltimore firefighter, a 31-year-old College Park poet and a 19-year-old from Kent County.

The casualties reflect changes in the way the nation's wars are conducted. The average age of those who died is just under 26 - older than in past conflicts. That's a consequence, experts say, of the heavy reliance on the National Guard and Reserve units in the current conflicts. Nearly half of U.S. service members in Iraq and Afghanistan are from the Guard and Reserves.

"It's a broader slice of American life" compared with casualties of previous wars, said John F. Guilmartin Jr., a professor of military history at Ohio State University, referring to the nation's fallen.

The average age of soldiers killed in the Vietnam War, for example, was 23.

Of the current wars' toll, Guilmartin said, "It's very different from Vietnam, in just about every way."

The Pentagon's official count, as of Friday, lists 77 fallen service members who had identified themselves as Maryland residents. Other lists of Maryland's fallen include more than a dozen others who lived in the state but later moved, or were stationed in Maryland but who resided elsewhere.

Marine Cpl. Jennifer M. Parcell, 20, of Bel Air, was one of five women from the state who has died in the war.

She joined the Marines soon after graduating from Fallston High School in Harford County, following in her brother's footsteps. She was killed in February 2007 in an attack by a suicide bomber in Iraq.

"I live with it every day," said Pamala Simon, Parcell's mother. "It don't go away. I just miss her."

Cpl. Joseph Parcell was scheduled to lead a presentation honoring his sister's military accomplishments yesterday at the family's church, Mount Calvary Freewill Baptist in Aberdeen.

Simon, whose daughter is buried in Bel Air, said her family planned to spend today at Arlington National Cemetery, watching the Marine Corps silent drill team.

"I look at everything entirely different now," Simon said. "I really respect and honor those who sacrifice themselves to go. We take it for granted."

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Roger W. Haller had spent more than two decades in the Maryland National Guard when he begged to be sent to the war's front lines after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Davidsonville resident was killed in a helicopter crash north of Baghdad in January 2007, leaving behind three children.

At age 49, Haller was the oldest Marylander to die in the war. (A 52-year-old soldier who died in October was originally identified by the military as from Upper Marlboro, but the military later revised his hometown to be Portsmouth, Va.).

Morgan Haller said holidays are among the toughest days to deal with her father's death. "It would be hard for anybody," the 22-year-old Cambridge resident said. "When you turn on the news every day and it's a constant reminder, sometimes it's even harder."

Since her father's death, she has enlisted in the Army. "It's kind of like I was missing something in my life," she said. "That always stuck - if someone can do it for 23 years and give their life for it, then I think other people should do something, too."

She said her father's unit in Reisterstown was scheduled to have a ceremony this weekend to honor him and other fallen soldiers.

Robyn Anderson said that within hours of the Sept. 11 attacks, she knew her son was likely going to war. She recalled that when she picked him up from classes at Hereford High School, he asked to be taken to the military recruiter's office.

He enlisted in the Marines at age 17 and served a tour in Afghanistan before being deployed to Iraq.

On Memorial Day weekend 2005, he proposed to his high school sweetheart - and they got married that August. Three weeks later, he was deployed.

Anderson was killed in October 2005 when a suicide car bomb detonated near him as he carried out a military mission in Karabilah.

"You go on," said Robyn Anderson. "But every once in a while, it's like a punch in the stomach. You're like, 'If Norman were here, he and Tori would probably have kids.' "

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