May 29, 2012
As the blistering sun sets, disappearing in the horizon, a solemn wind of silence breezes through the dusky sky along with the first hints of cool evening air here at this remotely located operating base in Helmand province at precisely 7:12 p.m., May 28, 2012.
Flanked by a bugler, who plays the ceremonial hymn, Retreat, three formations of U.S. Marines and Sailors, British service members, along with Afghan National Army soldiers stand in orderly fashion at center stage of the Task Force Leatherneck compound here, to witness the lowering of the colors and to reflect on those who have perished during generations of war in service to America.
Prior to the lowering of the colors, and in observance of Memorial Day, Maj. Gen. David H. Berger, commanding general of 1st Marine Division (Forward), and TFL, the ground combat element of Regional Command Southwest, which covers Helmand and Nimroz provinces, led the TFL formation to pay tribute to fallen warriors from all conflicts.
During his remarks Berger said that Memorial Day should remind everyone of the sacrifice of U.S. service members who have died here in Afghanistan. Also, people should remember the sacrifice of the wounded, the family members who bear the burden of long and numerous deployments, and those who have died defending the nation in other conflicts.
“The sacrifice of those whose plain white markers stand proudly in those cemeteries,” said Berger, “in long rows, all perfectly aligned is a solemn reminder that the cost of freedom is high and the greatest strength of our nation is her people.”
In the often volatile Afghanistan provinces of Helmand and Nimroz alone, 49 Marines have died since Jan. 1, 2012 to today.
This Memorial Day had greater importance to Sgt. Camilo R. Osuna, company police sergeant for Headquarters Battalion (Fwd), 1st MarDiv (Fwd). Today was Osuna’s father’s birthday: a former Marine, and a fallen Marine.
“Today is my dad’s birthday,” said Osuna, whose father passed away at 25. “He was a Marine and he died in 1991 during (Operation) Desert Storm. His birthday just happened to line up with Memorial Day and I got to raise the flag in the morning and lower it in the evening on his birthday.”
Osuna, a native of Calexico, Calif., is more than a company police sergeant. He is a military musician, the chief Martial Arts Instructor Trainer here, and the color sergeant. “Today, I felt so much more pride raising and lowering the flag.”
HISTORIC REUNION A NEAR CENTURY LATER
Task Force Leatherneck is led by 1st MarDiv (Fwd) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. Regimental Combat Teams 5 and 6 currently fall under TFL’s command.
During the onward stages of this year’s fighting season, which typically occur during the spring and summer months, Regimental Combat Teams 5 and 6 are deeply engaged in combat. Regimental Combat Team 5 has an area of responsibility in the southern region of RC(SW), while RCT 6 patrols the north.
The last time 5th and 6th Marine Regiments fought side-by-side was 94 years ago during the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood, which was fought against the Germans from June 1-26, 1918, in what was then a remote wheat field that laid entrance to a dense, 200-acre forest just outside of Chateau Theirry, about 50 miles east of Paris. In that battle, the Allied troops lost about 1,800 men as it was often regarded as the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history at the time.
In a polarizing landscape almost a century later, 5th and 6th Marine Regiments are together again on the Afghan battlefield. Furthermore, members of the remain-behind element of 5th Marine Regiment, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., stood in Belleau, France, during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Ainse-Marne American Cemetery and Memorial to honor those lost on that French battlefield in 1918 where the cemetery stands today.
In the past ten years of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. has lost more than 6,400 service members.
As the colors lower and the detail of Marines receive the flag, the formation of Marines and Sailors reflect with somber silence on the meaning of Memorial Day and the price paid in blood by their fallen brothers and sisters of past and present.