Grief, Determination In Camp Lejeune On News Of Marine Deaths
Posted March 26, 2003 2:41 a.m. EST
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Flags already fluttering from homes, shops and Camp Lejeune buildings were lowered to half-staff Tuesday as the combat deaths of at least nine Marines gripped this garrison town in sorrow.
"You live, you work, you do everything with these guys," said Cpl. Jarred Pokora, a member of the 5th Battalion, 10th Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.
He serves in the same regiment as 2nd Lt. Frederick E. Pokorney Jr., one of those killed Sunday near the Iraqi town of An Nasiriyah, about 230 miles southwest of Baghdad.
Two other Camp Lejeune Marines have died in noncombat accidents in Iraq.
Pokora said he knew Pokorney's name, but didn't know him personally. The two were in different battalions, and Pokora's unit is still in Camp Lejeune.
Pokora, 21, was on a brief leave because of the birth last week of his first child. The Springfield, Ill., native was torn between grief for his lost comrades, joy at his baby's arrival and concentration on his own preparations for war.
"The training is a lot more serious that we're doing now," he said. "There's a bigger reason to train harder now."
Pokorney, 31, lived in a cream-color house outside Camp Lejeune. A white mailbox at the end of the driveway was adorned with a pink bow, interlaced with a red, white and blue ribbon.
His family declined to talk to reporters, according to a neighbor 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 the Tonopah High School varsity basketball team.
"He was someone you'd be proud to call your son," school secretary Janet Dwyer said.
Matt Sutton, 35, who was a Marine corporal in the 1991 Persian Gulf 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. "I anticipated casualties. It's not a piece of cake like it was last time."
Some 17,500 of the 30,000 Marines assigned to the base are overseas. One of them is Pvt. David Stone, 32 - on his first combat operation, his wife said.
Sharea Stone said her husband is assigned to field artillery in Iraq.
"When my husband left (in January), I just thought of him being overseas. I never looked at it as I look at it now," Stone, 29, said.
His absence now is "stressful, very stressful. I think about him, whether he is OK," she said.
Flags and signs in their support dot roadsides and businesses all over town. A convoy of a dozen or so Marine vehicles, some towing trailers with artillery pieces, rumbled away from the base Tuesday morning over roads that were notably less busy than normal.
In a trailer park, children's toys dotted the yard outside the mobile 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 for Iraq in January, the babies were born in February and he died in combat on Sunday.
Mrs. Bitz's mother, Marie Heron, said her daughter would make a statement about her husband later in the day.
Bitz's mother, Donna Bellman, said her son drifted from job to job after graduating from high school in Ventura, Calif.
She urged him to join the Marines.
"He was directionless, and I thought the military could help him find himself," she told the
Ventura County Star
. "He loved the service. He found direction and purpose in his life."