Troops Remembering Friends on Memorial Day in Baghdad

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2006 - There will be no backyard barbecues here to celebrate Memorial Day.

There won't be reunions with family or cold drinks while pitching horseshoes. A few will stay up late enough to catch live ball games from the United States or a part of the Indianapolis 500, but most servicemembers will just want to sleep.

Memorial Day for most Americans at home means the beginning of the summer season and a three-day weekend. But for most Americans here, Memorial Day will be a regular day at war.

When troops here have time, what they do will be closer to the ideal of Memorial Day that the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic envisioned in 1868. Then, the idea was to remember the more than 600,000 Americans killed in the Civil War. In the intervening years, America remembered the dead from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and many other places.

To the combat battalions, brigades and divisions based here, Memorial Day means remembering friends they will never see again.

"It is not lost on me the sacrifices the men and women have made over here," said Army Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of Multinational Division Baghdad. "I know every one of them, and I've missed very few memorial services. It's a part of the family when we lose somebody."

The general spoke about calling the wife of a servicemember who had been killed by an improvised explosive device. "I wanted her to know we all felt her loss and ask if there was anything we could do," he said.

He said the Army has never been more motivated. In his 31 years of service, he said, he has never seen a more capable force than the one he commands now.

The general spoke of a cavalry staff sergeant who lost his right leg above the knee to an IED. He went to the combat support hospital to speak with the soldier and pin a Purple Heart on him. "The soldier said, 'Sir, I don't need a Purple Heart. I did this for my country.' I pinned the medal on him with tears in my eyes," Thurman said. "I got ready to leave, and I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He told me to keep going after the people who did this,\ and know 'that as soon as I get a new leg I'll be back over here with you.'

"That's the quality of soldiers we've got," Thurman said. "And Americans should remember that."

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