Chicago Tribune - Tears, determination in grieving Ohio city

Monday, August 8, 2005

(Chicago Tribune)Tears, determination in grieving Ohio city The Iraq war's deadly toll ripples across Columbus, home to a Marine company that lost 9 this week. Here, even the mayor's son is on the front lines. By Michael Martinez, Tribune national correspondent. Published August 5, 2005 COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Not even Mayor Michael Coleman is beyond the scare of Ohio's growing Marine losses in Iraq. But he was breathing easier Thursday because his son, a Marine in Iraq, was not among the six killed Monday and 14 more on Wednesday. The mayor's son, John David "J.D." Coleman, is a member of a reserve company based in Columbus whose staggering casualties put it in the national eye in May and again this week. Lima Company has borne the brunt of weeklong losses to Ohio's 3rd Battalion of the 25th Marine Regiment, a reserve unit sent in March to a remote post in Haditha, Iraq, that has since proved to be one of the deadliest assignments in the war. The solidly Midwestern company has seen losses large and small: eight killed during battles in May, one later that month, two last week, and now nine in Wednesday's roadside bomb explosion that destroyed a 23-ton amphibious assault vehicle. Five other Marines also died in that bombing. Suddenly, Lima Company, whose men range from teenage privates to thirtysomething commanders, has become one of the nation's most discussed and most tragic military units for its large losses in combat. A prominent role "Lima Company has assumed a prominent role in our country for being on the front line [of] battle in Iraq. They've got a national reputation of being the top fighters in the country right now," the mayor said. The losses, however, clearly were taking their toll on Marine reservists at Lima Company headquarters Thursday. One reservist in civilian clothes was in tears as he left an auditorium meeting, and an older Marine advised him to wipe away his tears and collect himself before he walked out of the building, where a few reporters were gathered. "You ought to stay here before you go out," the the younger man was told. Some Marines appeared tense. "Well, emotions are running kind of high right now," said Capt. Chris Logan, 31, a media officer with the Marine Forces Reserve who was flown into Columbus to assist Lima Company this week. "When something like this happens, it's devastating," Logan said. "From the reservists' side, you'll see a more dramatic impact on a community," he said. The sacrifices are unifying the state's capital city. It's not uncommon to see residents wearing Lima Company T-shirts on the street, the mayor said. A fall welcome Meanwhile, relatives of Marines are pushing the city to hold an old-fashioned homecoming for the company, as well as other battalion members, when the reservists' tour of duty ends in late September or early October. "Hopefully, when we bring the guys back, we can have some sort of heroes' welcome for them," said Donna Bell, who was wearing a Lima Company T-shirt outside company headquarters at the Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base southeast of Columbus. Her son, Jonathan, 23, is a lance corporal and an infantryman in Lima Company, and she and her daughter, Julie, 24, had just placed red roses at the front entrance sign to honor the nine members killed this week as well as to mark three other deaths of company personnel. While parents like Bell and the mayor were relieved that their sons were spared from this week's bloodshed, they say that Marine families have a tight-knit communications network using phones and e-mail in which all empathize with the grieving families. Among those grieving Thursday was another family named Bell. A Marine killed Wednesday was Lance Cpl. Timothy Michael Bell Jr., 22, of West Chester, Ohio, who was a judo and motorcycle enthusiast. "My son was the last of the John Waynes, but tougher," said his father, Timothy Michael Bell Sr. The son told his parents why he wanted to become a Marine as they all traveled to Columbus for his activation in January. "He just said, `This is what I was born to do,"' said his stepmother, Vivian Bell. Yet another Lima Company member who died was Lance Cpl. Michael Cifuentes, 25, of Oxford, Ohio. He had graduated from Miami University in 2002 with a degree in psychology and was thinking of becoming a teacher after he earned a master's degree in math, school officials said. Planning to re-enlist Lance Cpl. Brett Wightman, 22, who also was killed, wanted to make the Marines his life's work and was planning to re-enlist in October, relatives said. "He said, `People are upset because we're over here fighting,"' recalled his aunt, Missy Luttrell. "But he said, `We just rescued some children from this house. And if you could have seen the looks on their faces and how glad they were to see us, it made it all worthwhile.' So he believed in what he was doing." ----------


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