Thursday, June 05, 2003



Thursday, June 5, 2003
South Jersey News

First combat casualties sadden ex-Marines in S.J.

JEROME DELAY/Associated Press
Flames and smoke rise after a missile hits a government building in Baghdad Friday. The night's barrage involved 320 Tomahawk missiles fired from ships in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Courier-Post Staff


Don Burkhard was saddened to hear the first coalition combat casualties of the war in Iraq were U.S. Marines, but not surprised.

"The Marines go in first, that's been our history," said Burkhard, 64, who served two tours in Vietnam with the Marines. "That's what we train for."

U.S. military commanders reported Friday that two Marines were the first combat casualties in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Earlier, a dozen American and British Marines were killed in a helicopter crash that appeared to be accidental.

Of the combat casualties, one died trying to secure an oil pumping station. He was part of a company advancing on a burning oil pump station when he was shot in the stomach, a comrade said. He was from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Lt. Col. Neal Peckham, a British military spokesman in Kuwait. He died in the sweep on the Rumeila oil field in southern Iraq, where acrid smoke blackened the sky.

The other was also from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He died Friday at about 4 p.m. while fighting enemy Iraqi forces near Umm Qasr, a strategic port which came under allied control Friday.

Earlier, eight British and four U.S. Marines died when their CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed and burned about nine miles south of the Iraqi border town of Umm Qasr. Military officials said no hostile fire was reported i "It's the closest of all the services," said Burkhard, who spent 21 years in the Marines. He joined when he was 16 years old.

"You seethe globe and anchor, and you know he's a brother," said Burkhard, who serves as an honor guard in Gloucester County. "You're a Marine until the day you die."

The Marine Corps' symbol is an eagle perched atop a globe with an anchor behind it.

Historically, the Marines were ferried to battle on beach-landing craft, Burkhard said. Today - and especially in Iraq - they're more likely to ride to the fight on helicopters.

Jim Bastien, 57, of National Park, was in training at Parris Island, S.C., just two weeks after he graduated from high school in 1963. He went to aviation mechanics school and served 14 months in Vietnam.

He also was not surprised to hear Marines suffered the first combat casualties, especially since they were among the first major military units that pushed into Iraq.

"They're known for (being first)," he said. "It's the reputation of the Marine Corps."

He noted that the Marine Corps motto is "First to Fight," and that is embedded in every Marine.

"The odds are that you stand a better chance of being a casualty," he said. "Although you hope it doesn't happen."

Norm Sooy, 55, of Gloucester Township, spent four years in the Marines and served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. He was also in the Coast Guard and is now Camden County's director of veterans affairs.

He said the Marines are a tight group. "Boot camp makes you that way," Sooy said. "It's not an army of one, it's a team."

It's especially sad that Marines were the first casualties, he said. He's sure the troops were accomplishing an objective and is positive the team did not leave the men behind.

"I'm sure they were doing their job and got caught in harm's way," he said. "You cover each other's back. You never leave a Marine."

Not everyone can be a Marine, Bastien said.

"You earn the right to wear the globe and anchor," he said. "It's not just given to you."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Michael T. Burkhart at (856) 486-2474 or

Copyright 2003 Courier-Post.