In September 2006, nearly 1,000 Marines and sailors departed for Iraq from Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, with the Second Battalion, Third Marine Regiment. By April 2007, 23 fewer returned. Twenty-two Marines and one sailor paid the supreme sacrifice in Anbar Province.
On Thursday, April 19, families of the 23 lost gathered at Kaneohe as the Marine Corps paid its tribute to the fallen heroes. Their brothers in arms planted 23 rifles downward, behind 23 pairs of combat boots. Around each weapon, they draped a dog tag belonging to one of their fallen battalion mates. Then they stood at attention as the names of the 23 were read in a final roll call.
Two of the honored came from Virginia. Corporal Joshua Sticklen, 24, was killed on December 3 when his CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed. The intelligence specialist’s awards included the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Korean Defense Service Medal.
Lance Corporal Daniel Morris, 19, died on February 14 from combat injuries. The rifleman’s awards included the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.
One of their surviving battalion mates, Sergeant Mark Wilson Viloria, summarizes what America’s service members sacrifice for:
“We are trying to keep the bad guys in their country and prevent them from coming to our county and making another 9-11 and I hope you all can see that.”
Many of us do, and we thank you all.