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U.S. 'Joe Blow' tracks Iraq war dead

Published on ZDNet News: December 27, 2006, 12:55 PM PT

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When Michael White, a self-described "Joe Blow off the block," set up a Web site to track U.S. casualties in Iraq he never imagined it would become a leading resource on the subject.

Nothing in his background suggested that White had anything to contribute to an understanding of the Iraq war.

The 50-year-old joins the traffic every morning to get to work as a software engineer at a firm outside Atlanta. He's never been to the Middle East, has no military training and speaks no Arabic.

But his "Iraq Coalition Casualty" site, which keeps a log of the dead and wounded among the military and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, gets a million hits a day on peak days and at least 4 million hits a month, White said.

It attracts analysts, journalists and defense departments as well as ordinary readers with its near real-time updates, statistics, and the names of casualties. Web audience measurement firm Hitwise calls it "one of the most visited nonpartisan sites aimed at U.S. politics junkies."

White set up in May 2003 when the war was supposed to be winding down and says it flourished in part because of his obsessive desire to make the names, dates and places listed on the site as accurate as possible.

"I wanted people to use facts as opposed to opinions to talk about the war," White said at his house in Stone Mountain, one of Georgia's main tourist attractions.

"I didn't think that the mission was accomplished. I had serious doubts that the mission would run smoothly and I wanted to keep track of how and where soldiers were dying," he said.

As of Wednesday, it listed 2,970 U.S. soldiers confirmed dead and 13 more reported dead pending official confirmation as the total crept toward the 3,000 mark. It had recorded 22,032 U.S. wounded.

"I find the site very, very useful ... It's well respected. It's always updated and complete," said Nina Kamp, senior research assistant at The Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. Kamp said the institute used the site's graphs for its own Iraq Index project.

War by numbers
Each day, White scours official sources and media reports, but as the project has grown that task has become ever more demanding.

White says he grabs every spare second before and after work and during his lunchbreak and even uses a network of coffee houses with wireless Internet at which he can stop en route to and from the office to check for fresh data.

It has become a strain on his family life as the married father aims to update 365 days a year.

I-Casualties has also started tracking Iraqi civilian and military deaths, relying largely on media reports because the U.S. government says it keeps no record of civilian casualties.

"The counting of civilians is the harder job and in many ways the more strategically fraught task," said Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings.

I-Casualties gives no overall figure for Iraqi casualties and the site says the daily deaths it publishes are only a baseline, noting that actual numbers are higher.

The widely varying published totals by other groups are controversial since they are seen as an index of coalition failure to bring peace to Iraq.

At the separate "Iraq Body Count" Web site, which relies on media reports, civilian deaths are reported as ranging from a minimum of 51,897 up to 57,452 as of Wednesday.

White says he receives mail from military families who praise the site's reliability, but he has also been attacked by those who see it as unpatriotic.

"I get the feeling that you are on the terrorists' side in this global conflict," said one e-mail he received.

White said tracking Iraq from the comfort of his civilian life gave him an odd perspective on the war. He was shocked by the high number of casualties from roadside bombs and was sometimes numbed by the steady drip of casualties.

"I wake up in the morning and there's one or two deaths, or maybe three or ten .... There's a daily toll from Iraqi deaths. There are days when I just have to play guitar and not think about this stuff for a while," he said.


Day in numbers: 654,965

POSTED: 7:37 a.m. EDT, October 12, 2006
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654,965: Death toll in Iraq following the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 according to a research paper produced by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in the British medical journal, The Lancet.

601,027: The number of those deaths that were due to violent causes.

560: Average deaths each day in Iraq, according to the report

7,254: Iraqi Ministry of Health's recorded number of deaths between January 2005 and January 2006.

27 million: Population of Iraq.

43,850: The estimated minimum figure of Iraqi civilian deaths because of military intervention according to Iraq Body Count, a British-based research group.

2,985: Coalition forces casualties in Iraq since March 19, 2003.

Video: Troop woundings skyrocket*

*This article can also be accessed if you copy and paste the entire address below into your web browser.

"Faces of the Brave"

"Faces of the Brave" is a “NON-PROFIT” 9/11 Memorial Tribute that expresses our nation's gratitude to our fallen heroes and acknowledges the personal sacrifice of their families and loved ones. The purpose of this project is to "Honor Those Who Protect Us" and to keep alive the memory of  "The Best of Humanity". The "Faces of the Brave" memorial tribute artwork is the only
project of its type to be legally authorized by the surviving families and estate administrators of the fallen heroes.

"Faces of the Brave"



Attacks in Baghdad Kill 13 U.S. Soldiers in 3 Days

Officials Cite Troops' Increased Exposure in Capital

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 5, 2006; Page A01

BAGHDAD, Oct. 4 -- Thirteen U.S. soldiers have been killed in Baghdad since Monday, the American military reported, registering the highest three-day death toll for U.S. forces in the capital since the start of the war.

The latest losses -- four soldiers who were killed at 9 a.m. Wednesday by small-arms fire -- are part of a recent spike in violent attacks against U.S. forces that have claimed the lives of at least 24 soldiers and Marines in Iraq since Saturday, the military said.

Iraqis check the  a debris of a house in Ramadi, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad that was destoryed  in what local residents said was a coalition airstrike  Monday, Oct. 2, 2006, (AP Photo)
Iraqis check the a debris of a house in Ramadi, 115 kilometers (70 miles) west of Baghdad that was destoryed in what local residents said was a coalition airstrike Monday, Oct. 2, 2006, (AP Photo) (AP)

The number of planted bombs is "at an all-time high," said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, a military spokesman, defying American efforts to stanch the vicious sectarian bloodshed in Baghdad that threatens to plunge the country into civil war.

"This has been a hard week for U.S. forces," Caldwell said. "Unfortunately, as expected, attacks have steadily increased in Baghdad during these past weeks." Independent databases showed the three-day toll for American troops to be the highest in Baghdad so far.

U.S. military officials said the surge in violence could be partly attributed to the increased exposure of American forces as they patrol the dangerous streets of Baghdad to try to quell reprisal killings between Shiites and Sunnis. The number of troops in the capital has been doubled since June to support the Iraqi government's new security plan, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, another military spokesman.

"When you go into bad neighborhoods, you'll have more attacks," said Lt. Col. James A. Gavrilis, a Special Forces officer and expert on the Iraqi insurgency. "If we have more people in one area, there will be an opportunity." He said enemy fighters "are reacting to an opportunity to attack."

Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, said another likely cause for the spike in American troop deaths was a recent call by the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, encouraging Iraqis to "eliminate the infidels and the apostates" during the current holy month of Ramadan.

Seventy-four soldiers and Marines were killed in Iraq in September, representing the highest monthly toll since April, when 76 died, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.

Army Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the Multinational Division Baghdad, said two weeks ago that attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces in Baghdad had reached an average of 42 a day -- with about six causing casualties or equipment damage -- up from 36 or 38 attacks.

"Why are we seeing an increase in attacks?" he said. "Well, we have twice as many forces operating throughout the city now. We're challenging the anti-Iraqi forces where they live and operate."

The disclosure of heavy American losses came on another day of horrific violence for Iraqis, with at least 59 people killed in separate incidents across the country, Iraqi police said. The single deadliest attack took place at 11 a.m. in Ramadi, a Sunni insurgent stronghold in western Iraq, when a suicide bomber blew up his car at an Iraqi army base, killing at least 19 people and wounding 10, according to a police official.

Caldwell also announced yesterday that an entire Iraqi police brigade -- comprising an estimated 800 to 1,200 officers -- had been pulled out of service and placed under investigation for alleged complicity with death squads. On Sunday, gunmen burst into a food factory in Amil, a Baghdad neighborhood under the brigade's control, and kidnapped 26 workers.

"There is clear evidence that there was some complicity in allowing death squad elements to move freely when, in fact, they were supposed to have been impeding their movement," Caldwell said. "The government of Iraq had lost trust and confidence in the 8th Brigade, 2nd National Police Division's ability to serve the public due to their poor performance and alleged criminal wrongdoings."

The move appeared to represent a new effort by Iraqi officials to root out corruption in the Iraqi security forces, which are widely believed to be infiltrated by militias and death squads that do more to exacerbate sectarian tensions than protect citizens. Caldwell said the brigade will undergo "anti-militia, anti-sectarian violence and national unity training."

The brigade's commander might be charged with a crime, and the head of the unit's second regiment has already been arrested, said Brig. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman. "They are both under investigation to know how all this happened without the security forces interfering to stop it," he said.

Also on Wednesday, a top aide to Moqtada al-Sadr said the anti-American cleric has specific information that U.S.-led coalition forces plan to launch a major attack on Sadr City, a Shiite slum in Baghdad filled with his followers.

"They want to turn it into mass graves similar to the previous ones conducted by the former regime," said the aide, Sahib al-Amery. "The occupation forces want to start a sectarian crisis on the pretext that there are Shiite militias."

The United States and Sadr have clashed frequently since the 2003 invasion, and some military officials have been calling for more aggressive moves against the Sadr-controlled Mahdi Army, which is considered to be a militia by nearly everyone in Iraq. On Wednesday, though, Amery disputed that characterization.

"The Mahdi Army is a doctrinal and ideological army, not a militia," he said. "It has no camps or headquarters, and its weapons are self-owned by its members. We in the Shiite areas, we have no terrorist groups or organizations. These are found in the Sunni areas only."

Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson and staff researcher Robert E. Thomason in Washington and special correspondents Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.


U.S. Casualties in Iraq Rise Sharply

Growing American Role in Staving Off Civil War Leads to Most Wounded Since 2004

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 8, 2006; Page A01

The number of U.S troops wounded in Iraq has surged to its highest monthly level in nearly two years as American GIs fight block-by-block in Baghdad to try to check a spiral of sectarian violence that U.S. commanders warn could lead to civil war.

Last month, 776 U.S. troops were wounded in action in Iraq, the highest number since the military assault to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah in November 2004, according to Defense Department data. It was the fourth-highest monthly total since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

The sharp increase in American wounded -- with nearly 300 more in the first week of October -- is a grim measure of the degree to which the U.S. military has been thrust into the lead of the effort to stave off full-scale civil war in Iraq, military officials and experts say. Beyond Baghdad, Marines battling Sunni insurgents in Iraq's western province of Anbar last month also suffered their highest number of wounded in action since late 2004.

More than 20,000 U.S. troops have been wounded in combat in the Iraq war, and about half have returned to duty. While much media reporting has focused on the more than 2,700 killed, military experts say the number of wounded is a more accurate gauge of the fierceness of fighting because advances in armor and medical care today allow many service members to survive who would have perished in past wars. The ratio of wounded to killed among U.S. forces in Iraq is about 8 to 1, compared with 3 to 1 in Vietnam.

"These days, wounded are a much better measure of the intensity of the operations than killed," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The surge in wounded comes as U.S. commanders issue increasingly dire warnings about the threat of civil war in Iraq, all but ruling out cuts in the current contingent of more than 140,000 U.S. troops before the spring of 2007. Last month Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East, said "sectarian tensions, if left unchecked, could be fatal to Iraq," making it imperative that the U.S. military now focus its "main effort" squarely on Baghdad.

Thousands of additional U.S. troops have been ordered to Baghdad since July to reinforce Iraqi soldiers and police who failed to halt -- or were in some cases complicit in -- a wave of hundreds of killings of Iraqi civilians by rival Sunni and Shiite groups.

U.S. commanders have appealed for weeks for 3,000 more Iraqi army troops to help secure Baghdad but as of Thursday had received only a few hundred, according to military officials in the Iraqi capital. Mistrust of Iraqi police in Baghdad remains high, Abizaid said. Last week, an Iraqi police brigade with hundreds of officers was removed from duty over its involvement in sectarian killings.

"The Baghdad security plan and the general spiral of operations is driving us to be more active than we have been in recent months," said Michael E. O'Hanlon, a military analyst at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank. "We have more people on patrols and out of base, so we get more people hurt and killed in firefights," he said, explaining that U.S. military offensives -- more than other factors such as shifting enemy tactics -- tend to drive the number of American casualties.

In March, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that Iraqi forces -- not U.S. troops -- would deal with a civil war in Iraq "to the extent one were to occur." Today's operations in Baghdad demonstrate that that goal was not realistic, experts say.

"In a sense, the Baghdad security plan is a complete repudiation of the earlier Rumsfeld doctrine where he said the Iraqis would prevent the civil war," said O'Hanlon.

Despite the mounting cost in U.S. wounded and dead -- including 13 American soldiers killed in combat in Baghdad in three days last week -- Pentagon officials say aggressive military operations in the Iraqi capital are at best a short-term and partial solution, buying time for political compromise, which they call the only way to arrest Iraq's disintegration.

"The Baghdad security plan will only be a temporary fix," said a Pentagon official who has served in Iraq. "You need to address the root causes," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The rising toll of wounded reflects ongoing heavy combat in Anbar as well as in Baghdad, where U.S. troops face an escalation of small-arms and other attacks as they push into the city's most violent neighborhoods to rein in sectarian death squads, militias and insurgents, officers say.

"Attacks against the coalition have definitely increased as . . . the enemy is trying to come in and reestablish themselves" in a dozen religiously divided districts in east and west Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a spokesman for the U.S. military command in the city. "There's a lot of weapons in Baghdad," contributing to an increase in enemy attacks using small arms, he said.

Withington said he was not authorized to release the number of U.S. military personnel wounded in Baghdad or the number of attacks in the city, although the military has released such data in the past.

A survey of reports on combat deaths from August through early October, however, shows an increase in those killed in Baghdad from small-arms fire as well as bombs along roads. Dense urban terrain in the city of 6 million people, where enemy fighters have many places to hide and can attack from close quarters, reduces the advantage of the better-trained and better-equipped U.S. forces.

"September was horrific" in terms of the toll of wounded, and if the early October trend continues, this month could be "the worst month of the war," said John E. Pike, director of, a Virginia-based Web site that tracks defense issues.

The worsening violence in Baghdad has led some Pentagon officials to criticize decisions by the U.S. military since early 2005 to transfer responsibility for security in large swaths of Baghdad to Iraqi forces while cutting back on American patrols.

"We made decisions to take an indirect approach, which is great if you want low U.S. casualty rates," said the Pentagon official. However, he said: "Passing responsibility to Iraqis does not equal defeating terrorists and neutralizing the insurgency. Period."

Families of fallen soldiers make surprise trip to Iraq!
By Judi McLeod
Saturday, November 4, 2006
(Editor's note: It is with great pride that Canada Free Press & America's News Source are the first media outlets to carry this exclusive from Move America Forward).
Iraq- It was a figurative blaze of yellow ribbons when families of fallen U.S. troops made a precedent-setting trip to Iraq in a stunning show of appreciation for the courageous men and women whose volunteer service keeps the free world a place where liberty is cherished.
Under the cover of absolute secrecy, and against all odds, the parents of troops who died in Iraq made it to the war-torn country without a single media outlet discovering the year-long trip plans.
The surprise trip couldn't have happened at a more meaningful time--right on the heels of the inflammatory statements and stinging insults of Senator John Kerry, who incredibly suggested U.S. troops serving in Iraq lack intelligence and are "stuck" there because of their limited abilities. It also comes amid new reports from the New York Times that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapons program under development. Some have suggested that Hussein could have been one to two years away from developing a usable nuclear weapon.
The Gold Star Families to Iraq trip was organized by America's largest grassroots pro-troop organization, Move America Forward (website: Updated trip accounts, photographs, audio/video files will be continuously uploaded to the Move America Forward website.
The trip is being paid for by the contributions of thousands of ordinary Americans, who gave money to Move America Forward to make a dream come true.
"The American people are shown a skewed picture of the situation in Iraq day after day by the international news media. We felt it was time to allow the families of U.S. troops who died in Iraq to come see the progress being made in Iraq and report it back to the American people," said Melanie Morgan, Chairman of Move America Forward.
"Now we learn that our troops helped stop Saddam Hussein's development of a nuclear weapon's arsenal that would have been the envy of every terrorist group in the world," Morgan said.
Momentously and close to the heart, the trip will also allow these parents to see the newly liberated Iraq that their children gave their lives for.
The truth suppressed in Iraq is beautiful: A new Iraq is rising up from the ashes of what was once a state-sponsor of terrorism under dictator Saddam Hussein.
Most provinces in Iraq are without the violence that is shown each day by international media outlets, but for reasons unknown only the most negative developments from Iraq are reported on a regular basis.
The family members will meet with U.S. troops currently stationed in Iraq, and will offer their support. They hope to meet with both the Iraqi people as well as government leaders.
The families of fallen soldiers will report to the American people about the progress in Iraq not being reported by mainstream media.
Smiles, hugs and words of encouragement will be wholeheartedly given to the troops, criticized by a liberal-left media.
Families of fallen soldiers are holding Senator John Kerry accountable for his insulting remarks.
"I am spitting mad at John Kerry for insulting our troops. Duck and run was his specialty in Viet Nam," said Gold Star Mother Debra Argel.
Joe and Jan Johnson, whose son Justin died in Sadr City, expressed their anger with Kerry: "These were grown adults we are talking about, not kids who didn't know what they were doing. Contrary to Kerry's belief, they made an "educated" decision to join the military, most of them after 9/11, so they knew the possibilities of going to war were pretty good and they chose to serve anyway."
And who could ignore the words of John Holley, who said: "I want to see for myself what America has been able to accomplish to help the Iraqis help themselves. I will be asking the Iraqis what message do they want me to give for them to the people back in America. Finally, I came because I wanted to experience the same feelings that my son experienced when he was preparing to go to Iraq, sort of walking in his shoes."
No fallen soldier will ever be forgotten. Their sacrifice and courage will be an inspiration to people everywhere forever.
God Bless our troops in harm's way everywhere. Thank God for the dedication of Move America Forward.


Disputed study claims 655,000 Iraqi deaths

POSTED: 2:57 a.m. EDT, October 11, 2006
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NEW YORK (AP) -- A controversial new study contends nearly 655,000 Iraqis have died because of the war, suggesting a far higher death toll than other estimates.

The timing of the survey's release, just a few weeks before the U.S. congressional elections, led one expert to call it "politics."

In the new study, researchers attempt to calculate how many more Iraqis have died since March 2003 than one would expect without the war. Their conclusion, based on interviews of households and not a body count, is that about 600,000 died from violence, mostly gunfire. They also found a small increase in deaths from other causes like heart disease and cancer.

"Deaths are occurring in Iraq now at a rate more than three times that from before the invasion of March 2003," Dr. Gilbert Burnham, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

The study by Burnham, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and others is to be published on the Web site of The Lancet, a medical journal.

An accurate count of Iraqi deaths has been difficult to obtain, but one respected group puts its rough estimate at closer to 50,000. And at least one expert was skeptical of the new findings.

"They're almost certainly way too high," said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. He criticized the way the estimate was derived and noted that the results were released shortly before the Nov. 7 elections in the United States.

"This is not analysis, this is politics," Cordesman said.

The work updates an earlier Johns Hopkins study -- that one was released just before the November 2004 presidential election. At the time, the lead researcher, Les Roberts of Hopkins, said the timing was deliberate. Many of the same researchers were involved in the latest estimate.

Speaking of the new study, Burnham said the estimate was much higher than others because it was derived from a house-to-house survey rather than approaches that depend on body counts or media reports.

A private group called Iraqi Body Count, for example, says it has recorded about 44,000 to 49,000 civilian Iraqi deaths. But it notes that those totals are based on media reports, which it says probably overlook "many if not most civilian casualties."

For Burnham's study, researchers gathered data from a sample of 1,849 Iraqi households with a total of 12,801 residents from late May to early July. That sample was used to extrapolate the total figure. The estimate deals with deaths up to July.

The survey participants attributed about 31 percent of violent deaths to coalition forces.

Accurate death tolls have been difficult to obtain ever since the Iraq conflict began in March 2003. When top Iraqi political officials cite death numbers, they often refuse to cite the source of the numbers.

The Health Ministry, which tallies civilian deaths, relies on reports from government hospitals and morgues. The Interior Ministry compiles its figures from police stations, while the Defense Ministry reports deaths only among army soldiers and insurgents killed in combat.

The United Nations keeps its own count, based largely on reports from the Baghdad morgue and the Health Ministry.

The major funder of the new study was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

In Marine's Death, Clues to a Son's Life

Mother Finds Answers In Effort to Understand Sergeant Killed in Iraq

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006; Page A01

Gilda Carbonaro pulled her car to a stop inside Arlington National Cemetery, stepping out to visit the freshly dug grave of her only child, Alex.

With her was a broad-shouldered Marine, limping from a leg shattered in battle, who towered a foot over Gilda. The Marine hadn't known Alex well but held precious clues about the person he had become.


Gilda had many questions. She and her husband had raised Alex in a world different from the military's -- the protected streets of Bethesda. Alex graduated from a Quaker high school, then stunned them by enlisting in the Marine Corps.

Gilda trusted he would serve out his initial five-year commitment, come home and go to college. Instead, he reenlisted, earning a spot in one of the Marines' elite reconnaissance units, called Recon, which operate deep inside enemy territory. That took Alex on two tours in Iraq, a war Gilda had spent two years trying to end.

On May 1, a roadside bomb tore through Alex's Humvee, setting him and two of his men on fire. He died 10 days later in a military hospital in Germany in the arms of his mom, his dad, his wife of not quite 12 months and his mother-in-law.

Alex remains the only service member listed from Bethesda killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. He was 28.

His grave in sight, Gilda -- a 56-year-old school teacher -- wrestled with unyielding grief, and with a mother's need to understand her son. The Marine walking with Gilda was a sergeant, like Alex. They placed flowers on Alex's grave, doing the same at the nearby grave of one of Alex's men. They walked to a big tree and sat down.

"Have you read the Recon Creed?" the Marine asked. "We live by that."

The Corps Over College

Alex was a tough read, even as a kid. Private and headstrong, he tended to reveal big decisions only after he had made them.

The world around him couldn't have been more focused on college. In 2000, according to U.S. Census data, Bethesda held more degrees per capita than any place in the country with more than 50,000 people.

Gilda held a master's in linguistics from Georgetown University. She taught Spanish at two of the area's top prep schools, first Holton-Arms, then St. Albans. Alex's father, Fulvio, a native of Italy with a master's in computer science, consulted at financial institutions in developing nations around the world.

The couple tried not to smother their only child. When he was 12, Gilda walked him through their neighborhood, helping line up friends who needed lawns mowed. Alex spent $300 of his earnings on a watch for his dad.

Alex spelled poorly, shaking his confidence as he advanced in school. Seeking smaller classes, his parents enrolled him at Sandy Spring Friends School, an eclectic prep school where students call teachers by their first names and are exposed to the Quaker tenets of peace and pacifism.

Alex applied himself to only what interested him -- Russian history, Brazilian history, creative writing -- and posted erratic grades reflecting that. He came to see college as a place others headed simply to get a degree. Without studying, he posted an SAT score high enough to give him a good shot at Georgetown.

Gilda handed him an application. "You'll have the most fun you've had in your life," she said.

Alex began to fill it out but halted at a section he viewed as phony. "This is when the person applying to college writes these essays saying what wonderful people they are," Gilda recalled him saying. "I'm not doing that."

Alex stood a wafer-thin 5 feet 7 inches tall, making it that much more shocking when he told his parents that he had enlisted after high school. The three drove to the Marine recruiting office in Rockville. "You can live a year of your life wasting time," the recruiter told them. "Or you can live it, planning every minute of it, and living it well."

To Gilda, it sounded like a standard spiel for parents. But part of it reflected her beliefs. "The unexamined life is not worth living," she thought.

Alex's decision stunned friends. He was the kid playing Dungeons & Dragons, the garage-band guitarist, the high-schooler squeezed into a booth at TGI Friday's, sucking down cigarettes and endless cups of coffee. He told them that he wanted to be financially free, to travel, to become stronger. "You know what," he told buddy Jon Codell, cutting off his concerns, "I think it's honorable."

Alex shipped off for boot camp at Parris Island in summer 1998. His parents soaked up his letters.

"My first shot was in the 2-ring center and to the left," Alex wrote. He had to nail seven bull's-eyes from 500 yards in his final seven shots. He did, "and so now I can move on in boot camp."

After graduating, Alex was sent to Japan to maintain electronic components of Marine aircraft.

"Hi Bug," Gilda e-mailed, addressing him by a nickname she had coined when he was a baby. "Well, so it's Lance Corporal now. Fantastic! What is the rank that follows it? Some sort of sergeant?"

"What follows lance Corporal is Corporal," Alex responded. "A lance Corporal is just a Corporal without a horse. I learned that yesterday. From the sound of it, most LCPL's don't get their horse for about three years in this particular occupation."

The Marines sent him to an Air National Guard base in New York. Then terrorists struck the Pentagon and World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The world seemed to be going to hell, Alex told a high school friend, and he wanted to get in the middle of it. Apart from that, he had never become the Marine he envisioned. He reenlisted, setting his sights on Recon. Fewer than one in five make it.

Gilda suggested having the Marines send him to college so he would come out an officer: "Doesn't it make sense to seek a commission?"

"So I can be stacking papers and signing things while my men are in the field?" Alex responded. "I don't think so."

'I Struggle With Myself'

Gilda and Fulvio fully supported removing Afghanistan's Taliban government. Given time, Fulvio thought, the United States would lead poorer nations toward democracy. "I am now convinced I was wrong," he e-mailed friends a month after the Iraq invasion.

A year later, Gilda and Fulvio thought the United States shouldn't pull out. Then, for Gilda, came a growing sense that staying was doing more harm. In spring 2004, she joined Military Families Speak Out.

She placed a sign in her living room window: "Bring The Troops Home Now." She kept postcards in her purse calling for withdrawal and slipped them onto windshields in downtown Bethesda. She went to rallies, visited members of Congress. She sent Alex articles on such topics as the challenges of reconstructing Iraq.

"I struggle with myself in deciding whether or not to send you these things," she wrote. "Obviously I want you to have total conviction in what you are doing. To me, this conviction translates to your safety. But another part of me is convinced the more knowledge you have, the better off, the safer you'll be.''

Alex kept training for Recon. At home one weekend, he and Bethesda friend Andy Huff jogged to Bradley Hills Elementary School. Alex reached for a chin-up bar, knocking out 20. He took a quick break and did nearly 20 more. "Whoa," Huff remembers telling him. "That's pretty crazy."

In September 2004, as part of a Recon battalion with the motto "Swift, Silent, Deadly," Alex shipped off to Iraq.

'Enough of the Politics'

Two months later, Gilda heard from Alex's fiancee. A bomb had blown up under Alex's Humvee, sending shrapnel into his foot and laying him up in a field hospital outside Fallujah.

"Mom, Mom, Mom," he said over the phone. "I don't want you to make a big deal out of this. I don't want anybody out there thinking, 'Oh, poor Alex, poor Alex.' "

He asked his parents to visit a wounded buddy at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. While there, they met other Marines, too, including one blinded by a gunshot who asked what Alex did.


"He's Recon," Gilda said.

"Recon. They're crazy, ma'am."

She asked what he meant.

"They have no fear," he said.

Gilda and Fulvio also met Frank Delgado, the tall Recon Marine who two years later would go with Gilda to Alex's grave. Three metal rings surrounded Delgado's lower left leg, and rods descended into his bones. He told the Carbonaros that he had just seen Alex. He was okay, and Delgado told them how lucky he was: Alex soon would be fighting alongside his buddies, not laid up worrying about them.

Gilda began visiting the hospital weekly. She also learned of Marines in boot camp who didn't get mail. She wrote them, trying to lift their spirits.

She sent Alex cookies, cakes, books, articles. She tried to engage him in campaign discussions.

"Enough of the politics," Alex e-mailed her from Iraq.

A month later, a red bouquet arrived for Gilda. "Happy Birthday," the card read. "Just know that I am doing OK. I love you. Alex."

Joining in Protests

May 28, 2005, was his wedding day.

At 11:30 a.m. he walked downstairs in his dress-blue uniform, a row of five medals, including a purple heart, hanging on his chest.

"Wait a minute," Gilda said. "The wedding is at 3, Alex."

He wanted to join six other Marines at the church to practice a ceremony in which he and his bride would walk under an arch of swords.

The newlyweds settled outside a Recon base in North Carolina. Selected as team leader, Alex was in charge of five younger Marines. It was down there, between his deployments, that Alex searched the Internet for his mom's name.

At the rallies, Gilda hadn't mentioned Alex's name. She had rarely mentioned hers. Still, as Alex could see, she had certainly been active. At a rally in Washington, a speaker saw Gilda, calling out her name. She spoke in Philadelphia. And just before Alex had left on his first tour, she spoke by phone to a reporter with Radio Free Europe.

"I can't let my son see how upset I am," she said in an online version of the story. "How do you turn around and tell your son: 'Your president, he made a mistake. You need to abandon your men.' You don't tell your child that."

Alex didn't like it. "Keep a low profile," he told Gilda.

She did. As Gilda wrote senators and friends, she stacked copies in a box, hoping one day to give them to Alex.

"How did the pistol shooting go? . . . What's the mood like in the country at least as far as Marines are concerned about the way things are going in Iraq?" she e-mailed from Italy.

"Political-wise marines are marines," he wrote back, "and will always just talk about the last time they went over there or the next time they may have to go."

Part of the Family

By April this year, Alex was back in Iraq for his second tour. "Hi guys," he wrote to his parents April 28. "I'm doing fine. I really haven't been in [camp] a lot. Maybe five days since I've been here. . . . I will get a hold of you soon. Alex."

Four days later, Gilda heard a knock on her classroom door. The chaplain asked her to her office. "It's Alex, isn't it?" Gilda asked.

Within days, she stood outside Alex's hospital room in Germany, being asked to put on a gown, rubber gloves, a mask and a hair cap. She walked in. Alex was hooked to a respirator. Bandages covered all but small patches of his darkened face.

"Don't worry," Gilda told him. "Everyone says you've been such a fighter, how tough you are. You have the best doctors, baby. You're going to be just fine."

Alex couldn't respond. "You've had more Masses than the pope," his wife told him, forcing a smile in her voice. Alex's mom broke for the door, screaming as she reached the hall.

Two weeks later, Alex's parents, his widow and his in-laws sat in a front row at Washington National Cathedral. More than 700 mourners sat behind them -- relatives, friends, Marines, St. Albans boys in their coats and ties.

Jeff Corwon, a Marine, walked to the lectern, his lower lip quivering, his back ramrod straight. He spoke of Alex's dedication. He turned to Alex's parents.

"Mr. and Mrs. Carbonaro, in your eyes Alex may have been an only child," he said, his voice halting. "But through your eyes, you may not have seen how good of a brother he was of mine."

It was the kind of language they had heard for weeks -- over the phone from North Carolina, in Germany, in Washington setting up the funeral: You are part of our family.

That evening, friends and relatives gathered at the Carbonaros'. Carloads of Marines pulled up, parking near Gilda's Bring The Troops Home sign. Inside, they stood in clumps, telling stories about Alex and smiling. Gilda kept approaching. They offered to do anything for her -- now, 20 years from now. "We're going to get together again, right?" she asked.

Absolutely, they said.

Online, she found tributes: "Many times, I went to Alex for ideas and advice on how to accomplish a task," wrote his platoon commander, Lt. Tommy Waller, "never walking away without a better plan than the one I had started with."

Gilda also found the Recon Creed, which offers its own tenets for life: Sacrifice comfort. Complete the mission. "A Recon Marine can speak without saying a word," it closes, "and achieve what others can only imagine."

Alex's widow, who is also named Gilda, told his parents of her final phone conversation with Alex in late April. She told him that people were praying for him. He told her to thank them. "Tell them to pray for my team, too," he said, adding that if something happened to them, it would be as bad or worse than if it happened to him. Alex also asked his wife to round up information on the veteran's college scholarships they had discussed. He planned to leave the Corps next year.

Alex's mom read the book "One Bullet Away," written by a Recon officer. In battle, he wrote, Recon operated in such small units that its team leaders were "the battalion's backbone."

The Bombing

Closer to home, two Marine veterans of the Iraq war check on Gilda and Fulvio. Sometimes they bring Italian wine, staying for dinner. "There's a bit of Alex in all of us," Delgado, who just retired from the Corps, told them last month.

Alex's full unit is due home this month, with members planning to visit Arlington. Gilda has invited many of them over. She and Fulvio want to meet Marines such as David Drexler, the last known person to hear Alex speak.

After the blast, he wrestled Alex to the ground, damping out flames with his gloved hands. He wrapped Alex in a gel-lined blanket, laid him on his back and propped Alex's head on his leg as they waited for the helicopter. Alex cursed roadside bombs, joking that they had gotten him again. He asked for water.

"Where's Elmo?" Alex asked. "Where's Moss?"

"Doc's working on them now," Drexler said.

"How's Palmer? How's Fulks?"

"Everybody's fine," Drexler said.

Twenty minutes passed. Alex kept asking about his team. Finally, he said his arms felt like they were burning, and his face hurt.

"Okay," Drexler said, knowing he needed morphine. "I'm going to call for Doc."

Diane M. Weller



The song playing in the background is Faith Hill's~ Amazing Grace


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