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Grief, Determination In Camp Lejeune On News Of Marine Deaths

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CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Flags already fluttering from homes,shops and Camp Lejeune buildings were lowered to half-staff Tuesdayas the combat deaths of at least nine Marines gripped this garrisontown in sorrow.

"You live, you work, you do everything with these guys," saidCpl. Jarred Pokora, a member of the 5th Battalion, 10th Regiment ofthe 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.

He serves in the same regiment as 2nd Lt. Frederick E. PokorneyJr., one of those killed Sunday near the Iraqi town of AnNasiriyah, about 230 miles southwest of Baghdad.

Two other Camp Lejeune Marines have died in noncombat accidentsin Iraq.

Pokora said he knew Pokorney's name, but didn't know himpersonally. The two were in different battalions, and Pokora's unitis still in Camp Lejeune.

Pokora, 21, was on a brief leave because of the birth last weekof his first child. The Springfield, Ill., native was torn betweengrief for his lost comrades, joy at his baby's arrival andconcentration on his own preparations for war.

"The training is a lot more serious that we're doing now," hesaid. "There's a bigger reason to train harder now."

Pokorney, 31, lived in a cream-color house outside CampLejeune. A white mailbox at the end of the driveway was adornedwith a pink bow, interlaced with a red, white and blue ribbon.

His family declined to talk to reporters, according to aneighbor who refused who refused to give her name.

In Tonopah, Nev., where Pokorney lived for two years as a youth,friends remembered a "wonderful all-around kid" who played on theTonopah High School varsity basketball team.

"He was someone you'd be proud to call your son," schoolsecretary Janet Dwyer said.

Matt Sutton, 35, who was a Marine corporal in the 1991 PersianGulf War, said the deaths hurt the Lejeune community.

"I feel for the Marines and for their families," said Sutton,now a service manager at a Jacksonville tire company. "Ianticipated casualties. It's not a piece of cake like it was lasttime."

Some 17,500 of the 30,000 Marines assigned to the base areoverseas. One of them is Pvt. David Stone, 32 - on his first combatoperation, his wife said.

Sharea Stone said her husband is assigned to field artillery inIraq.

"When my husband left (in January), I just thought of him beingoverseas. I never looked at it as I look at it now," Stone, 29,said.

His absence now is "stressful, very stressful. I think abouthim, whether he is OK," she said.

Flags and signs in their support dot roadsides and businessesall over town. A convoy of a dozen or so Marine vehicles, sometowing trailers with artillery pieces, rumbled away from the baseTuesday morning over roads that were notably less busy than normal.

In a trailer park, children's toys dotted the yard outside themobile home that Sgt. Michael E. Bitz shared with his wife, Janina,and their four children.

The family included infant twins Bitz never saw. He left forIraq in January, the babies were born in February and he died incombat on Sunday.

Mrs. Bitz's mother, Marie Heron, said her daughter would make astatement about her husband later in the day.

Bitz's mother, Donna Bellman, said her son drifted from job tojob after graduating from high school in Ventura, Calif.

She urged him to join the Marines.

"He was directionless, and I thought the military could helphim find himself," she told the

Ventura County Star

. "He lovedthe service. He found direction and purpose in his life."

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