Those remembered on Memorial Day not just old statistics

Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2004

"Through our history, America has gone to war reluctantly because we have known the costs of war. And in every generation, it is the best among us who are called to pay that price. Those who have paid those costs have given us every moment we live in freedom, and every living American is in their debt. We can never repay what they gave for this country. But on this holiday, we acknowledge the debt by showing our respect and gratitude."

President George Bush in weekly radio address, May 29, 2004

On Monday, the finale to a long holiday weekend, the nation will pause to remember those who have died fighting for the freedoms the United States holds dear. In all wars, more than 1 million Americans have died for the sake of those freedoms.

This year's remembrance takes on even more meaning as the world continues to be embroiled in the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. soldiers continue to give their lives in far-off corners of the world.

As of Friday, 800 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq last year, The Associated Press reported this weekend. Of those, 585 died as a result of hostile action and 215 died of non-hostile causes, said the AP.

There is a strange juxtaposition to this Memorial Day remembrance. On the one hand, with the dedication of a memorial in their honor, veterans of World War II are in the spotlight. The generation of soldiers who fought that war is dying; only about 4 million of the 16 million who served during that war are still living. On the other hand, daily there is news of the hardships and challenges being faced by U.S. soldiers and their allies fighting in Iraq.

On Monday, the nation will pause to remember not just those who gave their lives in some past war, but they will remember those who have died in the current fighting. It's important to remember those who have died are not just Department of Defense statistics; they're real people who have left behind real people who love them.

In an effort to put faces behind the numbers of war dead, The Associated Press has provided brief biographies of those who have died recently in Iraq. Two are shared here as a reminder of who it is the nation is paying tribute to on this Memorial Day.

Army Pvt. Philip Brown

Philip Brown could be counted on to entertain a group, whether serving as disc jockey for dance parties or pulling stunts on an inner tube behind a boat.

''Phil took everything with a grain of salt,'' said best friend Conor Smyth. ''If there was a major problem, Phil would say 'Aw, I'll figure it out later. Let's go to the lake.'''

Brown, 21, of Jamestown, N.D., died May 8 after he was wounded by an explosive device while on foot patrol near Samarra, Iraq. He was a member of the North Dakota National Guard.

Brown was attending Jamestown College when his unit was called and left for the Middle East in February.

The Brown family has deep roots in Jamestown, where the college's stadium is named for his grandfather, the late Jack Brown.

Tom Gould said his nephew's dream was to graduate from Jamestown College and go to work with his father. ''How I wish that dream could come true,'' he said.

Army Staff Sgt. James W. Harlan

James W. Harlan coached youth baseball and loved sports. Most of all, he felt compelled to serve his country, his family said.

The 44-year-old, an employee for the streets department for the city of Owensboro, Ky., spent two decades in the military and reserves. He re-enlisted after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

''There's just so much about Jimmy. There's not just one thing you can say,'' said his brother, Kenny Likens.

Harlan died May 14 in a suicide bomber attack in Iraq. He had been stationed at Cadiz, Ohio.

His oldest son, James Bryan Harlan, said his father loved the military.

''Nobody wants to see their father die at all,'' the 23-year-old Harlan said. ''But to have it be while doing something of this significance, we're proud of him.''

The tour was James Harlan's second since the invasion of Iraq 13 months ago, said his sister-in-law, Kelly Likens.

Survivors include five children, ranging from 11 to 26 years old.

There will be a memorial service at the Kenai City Cemetery at 11 a.m. Monday including a flag parade, gun salute and presentation of colors. The chaplain for the American Legion Post No. 20 in Kenai will speak.

A Memorial Day ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at Leif Hansen Memorial Park. The ceremony will entail a presentation of colors, an invocation, laying of the wreaths, a flyover by F15s from Elmendorf Air Force Base in the missing man formation, taps and several guest speakers, including Command Chief Master Sgt. Robert Tappana from the 3rd Wing of the Pacific Air Force at Elmendorf, former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles and former Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., a triple amputee and Vietnam veteran. By the way, Tappana grew up in Kenai.

Everyone is invited.

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