CAMP PENDLETON – Five battlefield crosses with photos of fallen warriors stood in front of two formations of Marines on a parade deck at Camp Pendleton.
The crosses – M-16 rifles adorned with the Marines’ combat boots, helmet and dog tags around them represented Marines and sailors from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines who died in Afghanistan.
The battlefield crosses were part of a remembrance ceremony Thursday that paid tribute to the fallen Marines, the families and friends. The event included formations of the 500 Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. The invocation was given by Lieutenant Commander Carl J. Stamper of the Navy. Taps and final Roll Call noting the missing Marines by calling their names and noting their absence with a single bell ended the nearly two-hour ceremony.
The remembrance ceremony was the final event following six waves of Marine that have returned from Afghanistan since early March. In all more than 1,100 Marines served in what Lt. Col. William Vivian called some of the hottest spots in Afghanistan.
“We are here today to remember and pay tribute to five young men who inspired their brothers by their life and friendship and who inspire us all by their sacrifice in service of their nation,” said Vivian, the battalion’s commanding officer.
Vivian spoke of each Marine.
Lance Cpl. Benjamin Schmidt, whose passion for being a Marine sniper, placed him out ahead at the front line time and time again.
Staff Sgt. Stephen Dunning, who put himself in harm’s way dealing with improvised explosives before any other.
Lance Cpl. Kenneth Cochran, whose work ethic and sense of duty made him instantly part of the team.
Cpl. JonLuke Bateman, who gave his life going to the aid of fellow Marines.
Sgt. William Stacey, whose charisma and leadership inspired those around him, lifting young men to perform extraordinary feats under the most difficult circumstances.
The 2/4, adopted by the city of San Clemente and boasting the call name “Magnificent Bastards,” provided security and support for the Afghanis and worked to provide the local population with a foundation to be independent once all forces are withdrawn.
The battalion is made up largely of infantry units such as Echo, Fox and Gulf and a weapons company. In all, five Marines from the battalion were killed and 38 Marines were wounded.
“It never gets any easier,” Vivian, 47, said. “This was the hardest for me personally because of the connection to these Marines.”
“It’s amazing such young men can make so many life and death decisions every day,” he added.
For seven months the 2/4 was deployed to the Musa Qal’eh and the Now Zad districts. The 500-square-mile area was some of the hottest contested ground in the Northern Helmand Province, Vivian said.
During their deployment, the Marines opened the first bridge and opened a road linking the two districts. By the end of the deployment, local police and government workers were able to travel back and forth between the districts, Vivian said. Before that they could only move between the areas by helicopter, he said.
“Now today we have the Afghanistan Army in their final position and the police in Musa Qal’eh has doubled in size,” he said.
As an example of the mission’s success, Vivian relayed a story of a district councilman who had fled the area because he was intimidated by the Taliban.
“At the end of the mission, he came back,” Vivian said. “We asked him why, and he said, ‘The Taliban is irrelevant now.'”
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