Memorial Day in Iraq: Sacrifices remembered
American servicemen and women honored their fallen comrades on Memorial Day in Iraq, as the war winds down there.
Camp Victory, Iraq
With heads bowed beneath a palace dome still etched with the initials of Saddam Hussein, dozens of U.S. service members paid tribute Monday to Americans killed in action not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan and in wars of the past.Skip to next paragraph
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Officers presented a Memorial Day wreath, a bugler played “Taps” and a lieutenant general spoke about how “little compares to the loss of a brother in arms.” Soldiers in uniform and contractors in work boots said the nearly 4,400 Americans who’ve died in Iraq since 2003 were not faceless statistics: They were commanders, friends, family.
For some of the troops who gathered at Camp Victory in Baghdad, it was difficult to discuss individual losses, even now that combat deaths have tapered off and the war here is eclipsed by the bloodshed in Afghanistan, where the number of troops killed in action just passed the 1,000 mark.
“It’s too personal,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Bien Covita, 34, of San Jose, Calif., looking away as he declined to discuss the fallen service member on his mind. He added that he wished that Americans would view Memorial Day as “more than just a day off work. We sacrifice every day for them to sleep comfortably.”
Other soldiers said they missed the cookouts and camping trips of Memorial Days in the United States. However, they, too, worried that the holiday is losing some of its traditional meaning at a time when thousands of service members are still deployed in the Middle East.
“For people back home, all they see is a four-day weekend and the official start of summer,” said Sgt. Joseph Castro, 29, of Guam, from C Company, Special Troops Battalion, III Corps, out of Ft. Hood, Texas. This is his third deployment. “For us, there are no weekends. Today means more to me; sometimes people have to be reminded.”
Speeches at the ceremony never mentioned American contractors, who’ve assumed increased responsibilities with the drawdown of U.S. forces. The Obama administration plans to have just 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq by the end of summer, though the lack of a stable Iraqi government threatens to delay that goal.
At least 463 American and allied contractors have died since 2003, according to the website icasualties.org, which compiles official death announcements.