CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Members of this sprawling military community mourned Saturday as the news began to sink in: Just a few days into war with Iraq, five Marines who were stationed here have died.
The fallen troops had come here from all around the country -- the Midwest, the South, the Southwest and both coasts -- but the deaths hit close to home at this southern California base that so many Marines have left behind for war.
Regina Leiss, 36, whose husband is a Marine, held out her shaking hands to show how upset she was by the news.
"It's not easy. I'm really worried," she said Friday. "My 7-year-old asked me, 'Is Daddy going to get shot?' I tell him, 'No. He's tough. He'll be home."'
Even those whose family members were not in harm's way found connections to the base's casualties. In nearby Oceanside, Deby Alexander, the owner of Dorothy's Military Shop and Laundry, checked her records and found that one of the killed Marines had been in on Jan. 31 to have name tags sewn on his desert camouflage uniforms.
"I just got a knot in my stomach when his name popped up," she said.
Robert Alexander, who runs a military uniform and surplus store, said even his 5-year-old daughter was aware of events in Iraq. "We tell her the Marines go to war and sometimes they go to heaven," he said.
Expressions of support are all around the base. American flags line Pacific Coast Highway; signs in the windows of businesses read, "We support our president and our military" and "This property protected by Americans."
"Today Camp Pendleton and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force mourn the loss of members of our Marine Corps family," said Maj. Curtis Hill, the base spokesman said Friday, before news came of the base's fourth and fifth casualties. "For all those who have lost someone in this conflict, our hearts are with you."
Three of the Marines from Camp Pendleton died Friday morning in Kuwait when the CH-46 helicopter they were riding in went down about nine miles from the Iraqi border. They included the pilot, Capt. Ryan Anthony Beaupre, 30, of Bloomington, Ill.; Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey, 29, of Baltimore; and Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy, 25, of Houston.
A fourth U.S. Marine and eight British marines were also killed.
The other Camp Pendleton Marines were killed Friday in combat in southern Iraq -- the first troops killed in combat since the fighting began. They were identified Saturday as Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22, of Los Angeles, and 2nd Lt. Therrel Childers, 30, of Harrison County, Miss.
A number of Marines serving at Camp Pendleton have been killed in recent years in military operations and training.
A Camp Pendleton-based Marine was killed in October 2002 by gunmen in Kuwait. A second Marine was wounded in the drive-by attack.
Three Marines from Pendleton's 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion were wounded in December 2001 by a land mine explosion near the airport at Kandahar, Afghanistan.