BROOK PARK, Ohio – The rash of violence in Iraq (search) this week has taken an especially brutal toll on a Marine battalion based in this working-class town: Nineteen members from the unit were killed over two days.
Grief and anger shook the town as families and residents anxiously awaited answers after learning that 14 Marine reservists were killed Wednesday by a roadside bomb — one of the heaviest blows suffered by a single unit in the war. Two days earlier, five others from the battalion were killed while on sniper duty.
The sorrow in Brook Park (search), a Cleveland suburb of 21,000 people, was painfully clear Wednesday among the line of customers sipping their morning coffee at the counter of a doughnut shop down the street from the battalion's headquarters. Nearly everyone at the counter said they knew someone who was connected to the battalion.
"You never know who it could be. It could be your best friend. It could be your husband — it could be anyone from here," Eleanor Matelski, 69, said as she angrily tore up a paper cup that had held her coffee.
"Tell Bush to get our soldiers out of there now before any more of our soldiers die. This is getting to be ridiculous," she said.
A few steps away, near the gates of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, residents piled red roses, American flags, handwritten notes of condolences and white crosses for the victims.
Military officials initially said all six Marines killed Monday were from the Ohio-based unit, but the Pentagon (search) announced Wednesday that Lance Cpl. Roger D. Castleberry Jr., 26, of Austin, Texas, was attached to a Texas-based battalion.
Names of the Marines killed Wednesday were not immediately released, but nine of them came from a smaller Columbus-based company of the battalion, said Master Sgt. Stephen Walter, a spokesman for the company. The battalion was activated in January and went to Iraq in March.
Military officials told the families of Lance Cpl. Edward Schroeder, 23, of Cleveland, Lance Cpl. Timothy Michael Bell Jr., 22, of West Chester in suburban Cincinnati, and Lance Cpl. Brett Wightman, 22, of Sabina, that they were among the Marines who died Wednesday.
"My son was the last of the John Waynes, but tougher," said Timothy Michael Bell Sr., who last talked to his son two weeks ago.
Schroeder's mother, Rosemary Palmer, said she and her husband were talking about plans to attend funerals of the reservists killed Monday when the Marines came to tell her family about her son's death.
Palmer said her son joined the military in 2002 despite her opposition — she wouldn't even let him play with toy guns while he was growing up.
"He was persuaded that if he joined the Marines he would get a new sense of purpose," Palmer said.
Isolde Zierk, 59, coordinator of the Columbus company's family support group, found an answering machine full of messages from worried families when she got to her Columbus home after work Wednesday evening. Her phone rang 14 times the first 30 minutes she was home, and a neighbor stopped by to see if she'd heard anything about her own son, who serves in company. She hadn't.
"My stomach's in knots," she said, choking back tears.
Bob Fekete, manager of a tire shop near the battalion, said the losses weighed heavily on him. He has done auto work for some of the headquarters' Marines.
"It especially hits home because all these gentlemen were from this battalion," Fekete said in the shop's lobby decorated with American flags and a box filled with toys being collected for a Marine charity.
Fekete, who served with the Marines during Vietnam, did not express the anger some of his neighbors did. "It's just one of those things. It's part of the game," he said.
The risk that the same geographical area will suffer multiple casualties has been heightened in Iraq because reserve troops train and fight together — unlike in Vietnam, which was fought largely by active-duty troops who were replaced by individual soldiers from around the nation.
The 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, was first activated on May 1, 1943, and fought in several battles in World War II. It helped capture a key airfield at the Battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. Before this week's dead, the unit's Web site listed 25 of its Marines had been killed this year.
The battalion has units in Brook Park, Columbus, Akron, Moundsville, W.Va., and Buffalo, N.Y. The West Virginia unit said it had none of the casualties.