In a small West Virginia town, just over the Maryland line, a little girlhasn't quite figured out where heaven is - the place where Daddy went.
In Baltimore, family members who publicly questioned the war continue tofeel the loss of a Marine who was a father, son and brother.
And in Centreville, as parents mourn a son too young to have a family ofhis own, a father develops a new sense of patriotism.
This year, Memorial Day has special meaning for families across Marylandand the country who lost loved ones in the war in Iraq. And a nationunaccustomed in recent years to the realities of war - distanced by decadesfrom the hundreds of thousands who died in Vietnam, Korea and the World Wars Iand II - is honoring the new sacrifices of men and women in uniform.
"The sound that the flag makes when it stands at attention in the windnever meant anything like it does now," said Phil Hall, whose 20-year-old son,Marine Cpl. Jason David Mileo, was killed last month in Iraq. "There are somany things that take on new meaning when you are dealing with the loss of aveteran."
The three Marylanders killed in Iraq - Mileo, Army Spc. George A. MitchellJr. and Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall D. Waters-Bey - are among 196 coalitionsoldiers (162 Americans) who lost their lives. While the number pales incomparison with other wars, the loss for the families is no less painful.
Waters-Bey, 29, one of the nation's first casualties, was killed when hishelicopter crashed in Kuwait near the Iraqi border March 20, the second day ofcombat. Mitchell, 35, the only Marylander killed by enemy fire, died April 7when a mortar shell struck his post south of Baghdad. And Mileo, who watchedSaddam Hussein's statue being toppled in a dusty Baghdad square, was mistakenfor an Iraqi soldier and killed as the war was winding down April 14.
The emotional wounds of the families are still tender, the losses stillstriking, the graves still fresh. To mark Memorial Day - a day that has cometo symbolize the start of summer for many people, instead of somberremembrance - the soldiers' families will visit their resting places,participate in parades and continue to mourn.
Last week, Brenda Mitchell took her two young children to visit herhusband's nearby grave in Keyser, W.Va. The family - who lived in the smallAllegany County town of Rawlings until recently - still has yellow ribbonstied to a dozen oak trees around their white-frame home in Antioch, W.Va.
Those ribbons, which 3-year-old Bailey had planned to take down with herfather after he returned, are painful reminders that he is not coming home,Brenda Mitchell said. But the things that remind her of George Mitchell areeverywhere, and most striking in every day activities.
"If I'm in the grocery store and I see the soap he likes, it makes me thinkabout the battles we had over what kind of soap to buy," Brenda Mitchell said.
Her children are too young to truly understand what's happened - theirother child, Joshua, turned 2 years old this month.
Bailey "knows Daddy is in heaven," Brenda Mitchell said. "But I think shethinks heaven is right next to Baghdad."
In Lebanon, Pa., Mitchell's hometown, a memorial service on Wednesday nightmarked not only Memorial Day, but also Mitchell's birthday - he would haveturned 36 on May 20.
Before a crowd of almost 100 at a local Catholic church, David Mitchellcalled his older brother a hero, and recalled their childhood hijinks.
He said he takes solace in what he can - that his brother's body wasrecovered and sent home. On Saturday, he took his brother's 10-year-old son,Christopher, and other family members to pay respects at the West Virginiagrave.
He said he thinks Americans may understand the sacrifices of those honoredon Memorial Day more acutely this year because reporters in Iraq provided anintimate portrait of the soldiers.
"I know in Lebanon, it hit home," he said.
For Michael Waters-Bey, Memorial Day came too soon. He said the loss of hisfirst-born child and only son "tore half my heart away."
But as he copes with his loss "day by day," the Baltimore father, like manyother Americans, continues to question the need for the war in which KendallWaters-Bey was one of the first killed. "They have not found any weapons ofmass destruction," he noted.
Still, he is proud of his son, whose grave he will visit today.
"I will honor my son, because I am his father," Waters-Bey said. "Hesacrificed himself for the job he was doing."
At their home in Centreville on the Eastern Shore, Phil Hall and his wife,Leah, raise a flag to half-staff every day in honor of their oldest son. Theflagpole - installed by family friends after Mileo's death - is near the youngMarine's grave on their property.
Last week, the first Jason Mileo Memorial Scholarship was given to astudent by Chesapeake High School's drama club, which Mileo belonged to beforehis graduation from the Pasadena school in 2000, Principal Harry Calendersaid.
Today, the Halls will participate in a Memorial Day parade in Centreville.And they will hold a private memorial at home.
Phil Hall said the loss of his son makes him think more about what'svaluable in life - and feel more pride in America.
"I feel a sense of patriotism now with the loss of our son," he said. "Heput himself in harm's way. He did it for his family, he did it for his5-year-old brother, he did it for people he never met. ... He did it becausehe was an American."
Sun staff researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun