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More dead bring anguish, anger in Ohio
(But some people still believe the war on Iraq has something to do with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.)
Some question Iraq war; others urge US to press on
By Kaitlin Bell and Susan Milligan, Globe Correspondent and Globe Staff | August 5, 2005
BROOK PARK, Ohio -- The chain fence surrounding the headquarters of the Third Battalion, 25th Marines, yesterday gave the people of northeastern Ohio something they desperately needed: a place to express their complicated feelings about a war that took the lives of 16 of the battalion's members in Iraq.
As wind twisted the stems of flowers and pulled the strings of balloons as taut as violins, people stood and grieved, and knelt and prayed. They expressed views ranging from deep anger at President Bush to a renewed conviction to rebuild Iraq so the Marines will not have died in vain.
But many in this Cleveland suburb, in nearby Akron, and in Columbus expressed hope that this week's deaths, and the shock waves they sent throughout the country, would prompt a deeper discussion of a very perplexing war.
''It's going to change something, I swear," predicted Jim Dawes, 57, who served two tours of duty as a Marine in Vietnam and whose nephew was among the battalion members killed in Iraq.
This week's events shook the Buckeye State to its core, as communities across the northern half of the state lost sons to Operation Iraqi Freedom, all members of the Brook Park-based H&S unit of the 25th Marines, which has had hundreds of reservists called up for duty. Nine of the dead were in one Columbus-based company.
While other states have suffered spates of casualties, Ohio's loss of 14 reservists in two days, after losing two others a week earlier, was one of the war's harshest blows to hit a civilian area -- and seemed to trigger a new benchmark in public grief and discontent with the war's casualties.
Ohioans describe their state as patriotic and supportive of the troops. The state last year gave a narrow, critical win to an incumbent president defending his decision to send soldiers to fight in Iraq. But the shock of the recent deaths -- combined with growing worries that the 2 1/2-year-old conflict remains unresolved -- has more residents wondering whether the sacrifice has been worth it.
''This group of young fellas got ambushed. You have to start to wonder what's going on over there," said Jerry Freeman, City Council president of Tallmadge, an Akron suburb that lost a serviceman this week. ''When this happens in New York or California or West Virginia, you read about it and you see it. But then it hits home, and then you sit back and say, 'OK, what are you doing this for?' "
Jack L. Sarver, a City Council member from Tallmadge, said he remembers the Saturday afternoon a month before last fall's election when Bush's campaign motorcade came through town. Even though residents did not get advance notice, they spotted the Secret Service helicopters overhead and spontaneously lined the streets, waving, clapping, and whistling in support of the president -- and a war that many believed was a necessary response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sarver recalled.
On Monday, a 2002 graduate of Tallmadge High School, Lance Corporal Daniel Nathan Deyarmin Jr., died in Iraq, two days after turning 22. And by yesterday, as city officials put small American flags on downtown telephone poles to honor Deyarmin, opinions on the war had come full circle, Sarver said.
''For the most part, this city has supported the war," he said. ''But this town is a very close-knit community. Everybody knows everybody. This is pretty much devastating. People are saying, 'Why are we here now? Let's get out -- it's enough.' When it hits close to home -- that's enough."
Paul Hackett, an Iraq war veteran who narrowly lost a special election for an Ohio seat in the US House of Representatives on Tuesday, said Ohioans -- particularly those in military families -- remain a patriotic group. But they are beginning to question why the United States is still in Iraq, and what is being accomplished there, he added.
''The meaning of [the deaths] of these patriots who were just killed is further evidence of the failure of this administration to do anything over there worthwhile," said Hackett, a reserve US Marine major who was heading to Washington, D.C., yesterday for training. ''Why did they die? What did they die for? The search for weapons of mass destruction? No. To topple a dictator and make his people free? No. Free to do what?" Hackett said, referring to dangers on the streets of Iraq.
Hackett -- a Democrat who won a surprising 48 percent of the vote in Ohio's most heavily Republican congressional district -- noted that he prevailed in the district's rural areas, where he said more conservative, military families tend to be concentrated. He said he is considering volunteering for another tour in Iraq to support his fellow Marines, despite his misgivings about the war.
The reverberations from Ohio reached Bush yesterday, as he remarked from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, that ''the community outside of Cleveland, Brook Park, Ohio, suffered mightily over the last couple of days" and that ''I hope they can take comfort in the fact that millions of their fellow citizens pray for them."
The president added that ''we will stay the course, we will finish the job in Iraq." The job, Bush explained, is to ''help the Iraqis develop a democracy."
For many Ohioans, especially those who supported the Iraq war as a means to fight terrorism, the lengthening mission to promote democracy is a less passionate cause.
Dawes, the Vietnam veteran from Brook Park whose nephew was among those killed, questioned what the United States was gaining in Iraq, beyond military contracts for large corporations.
''The rich man has got richer, and the poor man has lost his kids," Dawes said. ''That's the way it was [in Vietnam], and that's the way it is now."
In Columbus, news of the nine deaths hit just as Marine families were planning a late August meeting to learn how to help their loved ones cope with returning from Iraq this fall. Instead of looking ahead, many families -- having heard that victims were from their city but not knowing their names -- sat anxiously in their living rooms, dreading a telltale walk up the driveway by a US Marine.
Julie Bell, whose 23-year-old brother, Jonathan, serves in the battalion, said she and her mother stayed inside all day, but finally ventured out to place red roses, tied with a yellow ribbon, by the gates of the local Marine office. She and her mother were planning to go to a service, scheduled for today, for a friend of hers who was killed in Iraq last week.
''We're doing the best we can," Bell said.
For friends and family of reservists in the Cleveland area, yesterday was a second day of mourning: Five Marines from surrounding towns were killed Monday. Scores of mourners gathered in windy weather outside the battalion headquarters. Along the fence, they placed flowers, balloons, and crosses. Someone had hung a white football jersey with the name ''Boskovitch" in orange letters, a memorial to 25-year-old Jeff Boskovitch.
Chris Clark, who served in the Army for more than a decade, brought a white teddy bear she had wrapped in a plastic bag so it would not get wet from rain expected later in the day and wrote a note saying, ''Please give to a child. Chris Clark, US Army."
She walked up and down the fence, trying to shield the mementos from the elements.
''All these cards, everything is falling over," she said sadly.
Rick Klein of the Globe staff contributed to this report.