They are constantly reminded. The bold headlines in the newspapers. The fuzzy images on television. All bearing news of yet another casualty, another American soldier fallen in Iraq.
More than 3 1/2 years have passed, 3 1/2 years since the war in Iraq began, claiming nearly 3,000 American lives and leaving behind spouses, bereaved mothers and fathers, and children too young to understand.
About 60 U.S. servicemen and -women with ties to Maryland have died. Young and old, black and white, men and women.
They are grieved for every day. A mother whispers at her son's gravesite every Sunday. A father leaves his daughter's cell phone number programmed in his cell phone -- just because. A Marine wears the ashes of his best friend in a necklace close to his heart.
Some are angry, ready for the war to end, joining protests and even running for political office to push for change. Others hold steadfast to the belief that their children did not die in vain, that there is a greater good that will come from all the war and bloodshed.
Most of all, they say, there is a sadness that strikes suddenly and sharply -- and never seems to subside.
Army Spc. Toccara R. Green, 23, of Rosedale died when explosives detonated near her supply convoy in Al Asad, in western Iraq, on Aug. 14, 2005. She was the first Maryland female combat death in Iraq.
The basement of his Rosedale home is like a museum to his daughter, says Garry Green, 47.
Here is where he keeps Army Spc. Toccara Green's citations and pictures; her uniform even hangs on amannequin.
He and his wife transport the stuff to fundraisers and parties where they raise money for a scholarship foundation for Baltimore and Baltimore County high school students. Toccara Green grew up in the city and graduated from Forest Park High School.
"That is how we honor her and [keep] her memory alive," Green says.
Green says he believes the country should never have invaded Iraq to begin with. And now, while he wants the troops to hurry home, he cannot help but also feel that they cannot leave the Iraqi people stranded when "we stirred up a hornet's nest."
Despite the country's mistake, he is comfortable knowing that his daughter died doing something she enjoyed. While he never talked to her about her feelings on the war, he knew that she loved being in the Army. "She was very obedient," he says. "She was adamant about doing her job. She died for something that she loved doing, not for the war itself."
Now, Green says, he is trying to balance letting go and not wanting to forget. "I cannot dwell on it too long. But I do not want to forget her. I just want the pain to go away. There is just so much pain to get rid of, and it just lingers around."
A former city detective, he retired last year because he could not focus on knocking on doors and serving arrest warrants. Now he does home improvement and real estatework.
Knocking on doors, he says, brought back flashes of the phone calls he would receive from his daughter from Iraq. "That is what I miss," he says. "No more phone calls. I still keep her cell phone. And I got her cell phone number locked in my phone. Just a constant reminder.
"Sometimes you just do not want to let go."
Marine Lance Cpl. Norman W. Anderson III, 21, of Parkton was killed Oct. 19, 2005, by a suicide car bomb during combat in Karabilah.
Marine Cpl. Joshua D. Snyder, 20, of Hampstead died Nov. 30, 2005, of wounds suffered during combat in Fallujah.
They were three young men, high school friends and classmates, graduating together in 2002. But most of all, they were fellow football players in a community where football reigns. They played for the Hereford Bulls.
Only Grant Hemmerly is still alive, a corporal in the Marine Corps back from Iraq in April, though he expects that he will have one more tour.
"We hung out all the time, partied, played football, joined the Marines," says Hemmerly, 23. "We did it all."
Hemmerly and Anderson were especially tight, best friends since the ninth grade. Hemmerly was in Anderson's wedding party, which took place shortly before he was deployed. Now he keeps his best friend's ashes in a locket he wears around his neck.
The deaths of the football players struck the whole community hard, says Steve Turnbaugh, 47, coach of the football team. There was a bull roast for a joint scholarship fund in the spring that thousands showed up to, he says. "The impact those two young men had on the entire community showed -- for that many people to come out."
Turnbaugh keeps both of their Marine portraits in his office. "They are the first things I see when I turn my lights on," he says. "And I will never, ever take those down."
He retired both of their jerseys, which are encased in glass and mounted in the school's gymnasium. "As long as this conflict goes on, you are never going to forget, especially as you watch the news at night, and you hear about other casualties," he says. "Every time, it hits home."
Turnbaugh says another former player who serves in the Army recently came back from Iraq for the holidays, and he was relieved to see him.
A player on his current team wants to join the Marines, which he supports, though he cannot help feeling a tad uneasy. "The recruiters come, and he has said he wants to go into the Marine Corps," he said. "It is great that these kids want to do this, and certainly you support them, but after what we went through last year ÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦" he says, pausing, as if at a loss forwords.
"It is tough to envision going through that again," he adds.
Army Pfc. Raymond J. Faulstich Jr., 24, of Leonardtown died August 5, 2004, when the convoy he was traveling with near the city of Najaf came under fire.
It is only when she is by her son's gravesite that Linda Faulstich finds solace. He is buried in her church's graveyard, a place she visits every Sunday after services. This is where he went to school, attended church, where he served as an altar boy, and this is nowhis final resting place.
On birthdays, she brings balloons. On Memorial Day and Labor Day, flags. And on Christmas, his favorite holiday, she came bearing poinsettias and wreaths, and decorated his grave. "It makes me feel better," Faulstich, 56, says. "He just loved Christmas."
Faulstich says she believed in the beginning -- she believed, as her son did, that he was going over there for a noble purpose.
"But I can see now that it is just not doing any good," she says. "Soldiers, so many every day, you know, all those young boys, all these families losing their children. I just think it is time to quit, because it seems like the majority of people over there do not want to have democracy and do not want to be free."
She was touched when thousands of people nominated her son's name last spring to be used as the name of a new elementary school. But she was told his name is not eligible because his accomplishments are not education-related, and he is not a historical figure.
"Dying for your country was not enough for an educational system?" she asks. "It hurt me. I do not know what more my child could have done to be deserving of having a school named after him."
Marine Lance Cpl. James W. Higgins, Jr., 22, of Thurmont was fatally shot in the chest in Al Anbar Province on July 27, 2006.
Sometimes Deborah S. Higgins still does those chores that moms do for their sons, like just before Christmas when she was shopping at the Macy's in Frederick. There in the linens were red silky pillowcases, a perfect match for the sheets that her son had picked for his bed before he left his Thurmont home for Iraq last January.
"I just walked by and saw them," recalls Deborah Higgins, 41. "It just caught my eye. I saw them and I said, 'That is what James needs for his bed.' I was so excited."
She paid for the pillowcases and some gloves and hats for her two other children before she shed tears in the privacy of her car.
Higgins drove a tractor-trailer before she was injured in April. Now she spends a lot of her time trying to start a foundation to help fund a memorial on the National Mall for the veterans of the Iraq War, a situation she will neither criticize or praise.
"I have certain views, but I keep them to myself," she says. "The big thing right now is: Should we send more troops?" she says. "If there's not enough men over there to watch each other's backs, then yes. It is common sense."
Higgins finds comfort in staying connected to her son's comrades. She has traveled to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to visit the Marines in her son's unit twice and even met the heart surgeon who operated on her son. "He was the last to see my baby alive," Higgins says. "I mean, it was his hands inside of my baby's chest. I wanted to say, 'Thank you for trying.' "
Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, 20, of Westminster died in a noncombat vehicle accident in Al Anbar province on March 3, 2006.
Three weeks after her son, Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, died in Iraq, Julie Francis was back working her two jobs -- as a case manager for the Department of Social Services and part-time waitress at Mediterraneo Ristorante in Westminster.
"I thought, 'If I do not go back, I am never going to want to,' " Francis, 47, says.
The routines of a workday--answering e-mails and small talk with the regulars at the restaurant -- have helped her cope. "I do not think it is something that you ever get over," she says. "Part of you is gone, and you do the best you can to get over it."
"Sometimes I can sit and talk about Matt and laugh and everything elseÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦and other times, I do not want to talk about it at all," she says. "It is kind of a thing that you can be going along fine, and then it just hits you again. And you do not know what is going to trigger that."
This year, Christmas was agonizing. "Do we put Matt's stocking up or not?" she asks. "It is a horror either way."
They decided to hang up the stocking and filled it with toiletries that they later donated to a church for the needy.
Putting up the tree offered a sense of comfort of sorts. It was something that Francis and her son always did together.
"Last Christmas, when Matt was home, he was lying on the floor and we were putting up the tree. I said, 'Matt, you know you are going to be eventually going off.' He said, 'Mom, I will always be back here to help you put up the tree.' "
This year, Francis and her daughter were struggling, trying to maneuver the tree into its stand. Off balance, the tree started to lean, toward the living room's glass door. But before it could fall, they gained control. "We laughed, and we knew Matt was helping us with that," Francis says.
Even with her loss, Francis has never wavered in her support for the war. "I believe that being involved in this is trying to stop terrorism, and I believe that is why we have not had any more attacks here, because we went there," she says. "Matt was there as a Marine trained to do his duty for his country. I fully believe that you cannot just say, 'OK, we have to leave now.' "
Killed in Iraq Members of the military with ties to Maryland who have died in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003 March 2003
Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall D. Waters-Bey, 29
Marine Cpl. Jason D. Mileo, 20
Army Spc. George A. Mitchell, 35
Navy Reserve Lt. Kylan A. Jones-Huffman, 31
Navy Seaman Jakia S. Cannon, 20
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Cornell W. Gilmore, 45
Army 1st Lt. Adam G. Mooney, 28
Army Sgt. Jeffrey C. Walker, 33
Army Pvt. Bryan N. Spry, 19
Army Pvt. Brandon L. Davis, 20
Army Spc. Jason C. Ford, 21
Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick R. Adle, 21
Army Pfc. Raymond J. Faulstich Jr., 24
Army Sgt. Maurice K. Fortune, 25
Army Staff Sgt. James L. Pettaway Jr., 37
Marine Cpl. Kirk J. Bosselmann, 21
Marine Lance Cpl. David M. Branning, 21
Marine Cpl. Dale A. Burger Jr., 21
Army Spc. Thomas K. Doerflinger, 20
Army Spc. Erik W. Hayes, 24
Marine Cpl. Nicholas L. Ziolkowski, 22
Marine Lance Cpl. Michael L. Starr Jr., 21
Marine Pfc. Robert A. Guy, 26
Army Chief Warrant Officer Keith R. Mariotti, 39
Army Sgt. 1st Class Neil A. Prince, 35
Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy W. Doyle, 24
Army Spc. Toccara R. Green, 23
Army Staff Sgt. William A. Allers III, 28
Marine Lance Cpl. Norman W. Anderson III, 21
Army Spc. Samuel M. Boswell, 20
Army Cpl. Bernard L. Ceo, 23
Army Sgt. Brian R. Conner, 36
Army Spc. Kendall K. Frederick, 21
Marine Cpl. Joshua D. Snyder, 20
Army Staff Sgt. Keith A. Bennett, 32
Army Sgt. Michael J. McMullen, 25
Marine Cpl. Justin J. Watts, 20
Army Pfc. Amy A. Duerksen, 19
Army Staff Sgt. Robert Hernandez, 47
Army Staff Sgt. Keith P. Jessen, 28
Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, 20
Army Spc. Armer N. Burkart, 26
Marine Sgt. Alessandro Carbonaro, 28
Army Staff Sgt. Marion Flint Jr., 29
Army 1st Lt. Robert Seidel III, 23
Army Pfc. Michael J. Potocki, 21
Marine Lance Cpl. James W. Higgins Jr., 22
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Edward A. Koth, 30
Army Staff Sgt. Christopher W. Swanson, 25
Army Cpl. Matthew P. Wallace, 22
Army Spc. Thomas J. Barbieri, 24
Marine Staff Sgt. Dwayne E. Williams, 28
Army Sgt. David J. Davis, 32
Army Pvt. Eric M. Kavanaugh, 20
Army 2nd Lt. Emily J.T. Perez, 23
Navy Petty Officer David S. Roddy, 32
Marine Lance Cpl. Eric W. Herzberg, 20
Army Staff Sgt. Christopher O. Moudry, 31
Army 1st Lt. John R. Dennison, 24