Questions, strife persist 10 years after Iraqi invasion

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Today (March 19) marks 10 years after the invasion into Iraq, a very sad day indeed for the world, really. Why did the U.S. go in there? Were there really weapons of mass destruction?  Yes, the tyrant Saddam Hussein was deposed and killed thanks to our troops, but  the aftermath has been a high cost to everyone, including Americans who worked to stabilize the country, the indigenous Assyrian people of the land who were murdered and chased away by insurgents, and moderate Muslims who just want peace.   Journalists should have asked President Bush, hell bent on invading,  tougher questions 10 years ago.  Meanwhile, I don’t know a reporter who hasn’t knocked on the door of a family, attended a funeral or a memorial of an American serviceman or woman who served and died  in Iraq.   Above and below are  photos I took with my manual Pentax K1000 of an anti-war rally on Hollywood Boulevard in  2006.

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In addition, here are two of my stories that appear on this blog in the WAR category.

1) U.S. Army Soldier Carla Stewart, one of the first local women to be killed in Iraq (Daily News, 2007). 

2) Iraqi Assyrian boy brought to U.S. for lifesaving surgery (Daily News, 2007)

Below, my story about three young men, all from the Santa Clarita Valley, who all died in Iraq within three weeks in 2004 and what Memorial Day now means to their families (Daily News, May, 2005):

 On a grassy hillside above Sierra Highway, the carnations, American flags and balloons placed with care on the graves speak for those who remember.They tell the men who are buried there that they are loved and missed, that they made their mothers and fathers proud, that a community now owns and guards their memory.
The tokens also say that for three Santa Clarita families who had never met each other until seven months ago – when their sons died just days apart in the battlefields of Iraq – today is a personal Memorial Day. 
“We’re personally attached to Memorial Day this year, because this is the first without our son,” said Bob Slocum, father of Marine Lance Cpl. Richard Patrick “Ricky” Slocum, a 19-year-old Saugus High graduate who had lived in Valencia. “There’s not a day that goes by that doesn’t trigger thoughts of our son.” 

Ricky Slocum, a machine gunner for the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, died on Oct. 24 near Abu Gharib when he was thrown from his Humvee as it negotiated a barrier. mug_rickyslocum

Bob Slocum said earlier this month that he and his family had the opportunity to attend a memorial service for Ricky and 48 other Marines and two Navy servicemen from the Kenoe Bay, Hawaii, base, who were killed in action. Slocum said he was touched by the depth of commitment and brotherhood among the Marines he met who knew Ricky. 

“Our generation has been brought up with a feeling of national security,” Slocum said. “We get up every day and go to work to bring home a paycheck to support our families and put food on the table. But sometimes we don’t really understand what enables us to do this. Since Oct. 24, we have a whole new appreciation of the word ‘veteran.”’ 

The feeling is the same for two other families: the family of Army Pfc. Cole W. Larsen, also 19 – a Canyon High School graduate and military policeman from Canyon Country who died in a vehicle accident Nov. 13 in Mosul, Iraq; and the family of Pfc. Jose Ricardo Flores of Newhall, a 21-year-old Hart High School graduate who died Nov. 16 when an explosive hit his convoy outside Baghdad. larsen

On Flores’ headstone, beside two bunches of carnations, a small, pink heart-shaped metal charm was left by his name. 

“It’s no longer a day off, a day of barbecues,” said Christi Larsen, Cole Larsen’s mother. “The whole reason for Memorial Day is you are remembering soldiers from the past, present and future.” 

Larsen said her family will be in Washington, D.C., this Memorial Day, to take part in ceremonies organized by a group called TAPS, or Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The group maintains a Web site so that families of those killed in the war can log on to chat rooms to comfort each other and seek advice. 

Since her son’s death, Larsen said, she has found comfort in knowing that Cole made an impact, not only locally, but also abroad. During Iraq‘s first democratic election in January, she felt a sense of pride. 

“I felt happy when they all stuck their fingers in the air, with the ink stains on their fingertips,” she said of the Iraqi people who voted, and the men and women who insured their safety to the polls. “How do you describe something like that feeling? I felt like Cole had made a difference.” 

At Eternal Valley Memorial Park in Newhall, up to 1,000 people are expected to gather for today’s observance. Among the more than 700 names carved into the giant granite stone of the Veteran’s Wall are those of Slocum, Larsen and Flores. JoseFlores

“Since 9-11, the attendance at Memorial Day has gone up,” said Duane Harte, president of the Santa Clarita Veterans Memorial Committee. 

“Now especially with three of our local boys killed, people could identify with war. All of a sudden, war is not an (obscure) concept with many of our young people anymore. It’s a total reality. These men’s lives impacted the community.”

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