BAGHDAD, Iraq – At a parade ground where Saddam Hussein once reviewed his troops, American soldiers gathered Saturday to remember and shed tears for eight comrades and three journalists who died during the war.
"We are standing at the heart of a regime that struck fear into the hearts of the people," said Col. David Perkins of Keene, N.H., commanding officer of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade.
"There are things worth dying for," he said. "Freedom is one of those things."
At the center of the ceremony were eight M-16 automatic rifles with bayonets, stuck into a wooden bench. At the base of the rifles were pairs of boots; on top were the helmets of the fallen soldiers.
To the left of the soldiers' rifles was a wooden bench with three Kevlar helmets with "PRESS" written across the front, for the dead journalists who had covered the brigade.
"They endured the same hardships to tell the story from the front lines," Perkins said. "They will always have our respect."
The ceremony was held according to Army tradition. Command Sgt. Maj. Otis Oggs, the brigade's top enlisted man, called out the names of four soldiers who answered, and then called out the names of the fallen soldiers, which went unanswered.
An honor guard fired a 21-gun salute, and a bugler played taps.
Afterward, several soldiers knelt and wept in front of the rifles, some kissing their fingers and touching them to the helmets. One soldier did the same in front of the journalists' helmets.
"I think this is a day of closure, not a day of remorsefulness," said Lt. Col. Ken Gant, commander of the 1st Battery, 9th Field Artillery Regiment.
The fallen soldiers were Capt. Edward Korn of Savannah, Ga.; Sgt. 1st Class John Marshall of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Robert Stever of Pendleton, Ore.; Staff Sgt. Stevon Booker of Apollo, Pa.; Cpl. Henry Brown of Natchez, Miss.; Spc. George Mitchell of Rawlings, Md.; Spc. Brandon Tobler of Portland, Ore.; and Pvt. Anthony Miller of San Antonio.
The journalists were David Bloom (search) of NBC News, Julio Anguita Parrada of Spanish radio and German reporter Christian Liebig of Focus magazine.
During the first two days of the ground war, the brigade raced through Iraq's western desert and was within a day's march of Baghdad. The brigade was also the first U.S. military unit to enter the Iraqi capital and hold the city center.