'It really hurts'; town grieves for 19 Marines


BROOK PARK, Ohio - Jimmy Dawes didn't need to explain why he was buying the plastic-wrapped bouquet.

"You goin' over there?" a friend at Marc's supermarket asked Dawes as he picked up the flowers to honor his nephew and the 19 other Marines based here who were killed in Iraq this week.

Both knew "there" was the old brick schoolhouse just down Smith Street that is home to the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, where scores of residents of this blue-collar suburb of Cleveland went yesterday to mourn members of the unit.

Friends, family members and passers-by gathered quietly outside the chain-link fence at the Marine Reserve Center - lined with dozens of flowers and piles of red-white-and-blue paraphernalia - to try to absorb the shock of back-to-back attacks that touched so close to home.

"It's a waste of human life. Six yesterday, 14 today -- that's too much," said Charles Ryant, 73, after pausing for a few moments in front of the makeshift memorial.

A hat declaring Ryant's solidarity with the fallen shielded his eyes: "USMC Never Retired - Always a Marine."

"We've got to get out of there and bring these guys home," Ryant said. He supported the war originally and backed President Bush but has grown weary of the escalating violence and the prolonged conflict in Iraq, he said.

A stream of residents passed through a phalanx of TV news cameras and satellite trucks to pause in front of the decorated fence, say brief prayers or drop off a token.

"It's just a crying shame. We shouldn't even be over there," said Dawes, 58, a retired trucker and former Marine who said he lost his nephew, 26-year-old Nathaniel Rock, in Monday's attack. "When it touches this close to home, it really hurts."

Mothers of surviving members of the unit came to pay respects to parents who had lost their sons.

Living in dread

"Walk in my shoes for five minutes and you'll know what worry is. You dread that doorbell ringing; you dread that knock at the door," said Sharon Kisroczy, 41, whose 20-year-old son has been in Iraq with the Marine battalion since March 1.

Kisroczy, who has a giant button bearing her son's Marine portrait pinned to her handbag, said she resents being stricken with fear yesterday when her younger son, accidentally locked out of the house, rapped urgently on the front door. She hates being certain that more young men are likely to die.

"Yesterday was bad enough. These funerals are going to be planned, and they're going to have these funerals, and then the day after, it's just going to continue," Kisroczy said.

Last month, a funeral was held at Assumption of Mary church, across the street from the Marine Reserve Center, for another area Marine, a friend of Kisroczy's sons, who was killed in June.

The church's parking lot was jammed yesterday with a long line of cars belonging to those who had come to pay respects to the latest fatalities at the chain-link fence

"It's shocking; everyone's just shocked," said Nilda Aleccio, 37, whose 18-year-old son is with the battalion and has been in Iraq since May 31.

Aleccio added a bunch of roses to the makeshift memorial, still wondering whether her son - whom she last heard from by e-mail Sunday - is safe.

'It's just very scary'

"I feel very sad for the families," Aleccio said. "And it's just very scary. I'm thankful that it wasn't my son, but you still feel afraid."

"There's always going to be casualties, but to have so many at the same time," said Aleccio's husband, Agustin, his voice trailing off. "They went there for a purpose, they did what they could, and now it's time for them to come home."

For many of the residents of this suburb of strip malls and modest homes, the Marines based here have become a fixture in their daily lives, jogging down Smith Street or showing up in local establishments with their unmistakable buzz cuts.

"These are the people we grew up with," said Rachel Kugler, 24, who said she attended Mid Park High School with dozens of boys who later joined the Marine Reserve and are serving in the battalion that suffered the fatalities this week.

"It's one thing losing a grandparent, but these kids are our age, and it just makes it hit closer," Kugler said, touching her chest and looking to two girlfriends for agreement.

They nodded in silence, took a look back at their three bouquets neatly lined up by the fence and headed home.

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