'There's nothing like losing a child. Nothing'
|Marine memorial photo gallery|
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
By William Cole
KANE'OHE BAY — Hatak Yuka Keyu M. Yearby, a Choctaw, Creek and Seminole Native American, cut his hair when he joined another warrior culture, that of the U.S. Marine Corps.
His father, Justin, cut his hair, too, four days after his son was killed in Iraq on May 14 by a roadside bomb. Lance Cpl. Jose S. MarinDominguez Jr. also died in the blast.
The elder Yearby yesterday knelt at a combat memorial with upturned rifle, helmet and boots, and clutched the dog tags of both Marines as he grieved and sang to himself his son's warrior song.
A final roll call and memorial was held yesterday for 11 Hawai'i Marines with the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment killed in Iraq on a recent deployment, and for their families, it was a chance to meet fellow Marines and bring spiritual closure to their loss.
"I had to know who these young men were. I had to know who his brothers were," Justin Yearby said.
Eighty-one family members of the fallen Marines made the trip to Hawai'i and Kane'ohe Bay for yesterday's memorial. They had come from Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, California, Texas, South Carolina and New York.
Eight members of Hatak Yearby's family were there from Oklahoma. There were 14 members of the family of 21-year-old Cpl. Andres Aguilar Jr., killed on April 2 when the 7-ton truck he was riding in rolled over in a flash flood.
The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society paid for the families to come out, and for all, it was important to be there.
"I buried my son's body, I did not bury his soul. I feel that my son is with me, and that he is giving us the strength to continue life," said Wanda Rodriguez.
Her son, Cpl. Yull Estrada Rodriguez of Alegre Lajas, Puerto Rico, was killed Sept. 20. He was a gunner on a 7-ton truck when it was struck by a roadside bomb just weeks before the battalion returned home.
The base chapel at Kane'ohe Bay was jammed with thousands of Marines. Most were from the 3rd Battalion, the last of which returned from western Iraq on Oct. 5 after a seven-month deployment.
"I had heard the voices of many of (the Marines) by phone, but personally, I didn't know who they were," Wanda Rodriguez said. It was a "wonderful" experience meeting them, she said. Her son was important in Puerto Rico, and meeting the Marines and seeing the turnout showed "he was something very important here, too."
The emotion of the battalion's 11 losses came flooding back at the close of the ceremony. Marines mingled with and hugged family members, knelt at the memorials with a framed photo of each Marine, and touched the helmet or said a prayer.
There were tears and recollections. Some family members stared blankly at the photos of fallen Marines, their faces ashen.
"There have always been others who say, 'Oh, I know how you feel, I lost my dad,' or, 'I just lost my mother,' " Justin Yearby said. "Well, I've lost a dad, I've lost a mother, I've lost a grandparent, and there's nothing like losing a child. Nothing."
The 11 families and others who have lost children to war "are the only ones who know how we feel," he said.
The Hawai'i battalion's headquarters was at Haditha Dam, northwest of Baghdad, but Marines were spread throughout the "Triad" of Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana near the Euphrates River and down to the Baghdad-Jubbah-Dulab region.
Sunni attacks on U.S. forces have increased with the continuing occupation and frustration with a Shiite-dominated government.
Eight of the 11 Marines were killed by roadside bombs. One died as a result of small-arms fire. Aguilar died in the vehicle rollover, and one Marine was killed in a friendly fire accident, family said. Three other Marines who were killed were attached to the 3rd Battalion from other units.
Lance Cpl. Dino Vigliotti, 19, was thrown 150 feet from a Humvee in the roadside bomb explosion that killed Yearby and MarinDominguez, and suffered a broken pelvis and collapsed lung, among other injuries.
Vigliotti's mother, Sherry, traveled from Florida to be at Kane'ohe Bay yesterday.
"I wanted him to have a family member here for the (memorial)," she said. "He's having a very difficult time."
Staff Sgt. Jeremy Messerschmidt, 28, from Kentucky, remembered Sgt. David Christoff in particular. Christoff was killed on May 22.
"He was an amazing man," Messerschmidt said. "Everyone looked up to him."
Cpl. Jory Camille knew Cpl. Michael A. Estrella, 20, of Hemet, Calif., from a deployment to Afghanistan. Estrella was killed by small-arms fire on June 14.
"He was company (radio operator). He taught me how to use the radio and helped me a lot," Camille said. "When I got back (from Iraq), I saw his number on my cell phone. It's just like you are never going to see him again. It snaps you into reality."
Reach William Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org.