COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Marine Reserve unit that suffered some of the heaviest casualties during the Iraq War reunited Aug. 15-16. Many of the vets still bore the physical and emotional scars left by the 2005 deployment.
Hundreds of Marines and family members gathered here at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base over the weekend to pay tribute to Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines. Ten years have passed since the Ohio-based unit Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines lost 22 Marines and a Navy corpsman while operating near Haditha during a nine-month deployment. Veterans of Lima Company were heading back to Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base last weekend – 10 years after they returned to the Marine reserve center from Iraq. As their buses headed down Interstate 270, traffic stopped and drivers lined the road alongside local firefighters to stand at attention and salute the unit, which is known as the Marine reserve company that sustained the highest casualties in the Iraq war. "I’ve never seen 270 this empty," said David Baran, a member of the Mid-Ohio Marine Foundation that organized the reunion.
Sharing Reliving the decade-old memories with combat buddies of their nine-month deployment and October 2005 homecoming was bittersweet, said medically retired Lance Cpl. Carl Schneider said of the men who returned from combat with him.
"It’s always good to see them; but it’s very hard, too," he said. retired Lance Cpl. Carl Schneider said of the men who returned from combat with him. "I know it’s been 10 years, but it doesn’t feel like it."
In January 2005, 180 members of Lima Company, 3/25 — nicknamed "Lucky Lima" — mobilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom. with the nickname "Lucky Lima." They Nine months later, they returned here L/3/25 returned to Columbus without 23 of their its men.
The deployment had a relatively quiet start, with Lima Company remaining unscathed for the first several weeks. But in May 2005, nine Lima Marines were killed — several in the same improvised explosive device attack. In July, two more Marines and a corpsman were killed in action. The following month, 11 Marines riding in an amphibious assault vehicle were killed by a roadside bomb attack.
In the last decade since that deployment, many of the Marines have gotten married, raised children and grown beards. them raised children, gotten married, grew beards. Almost all have left the Marine Corps to pursue other careers.
Some of them kept in frequent touch frequently because they remained in the stayed around Columbus area, but while others lost touch and hadn'tven’t seen each other in years. Even George "Doc" Wentworth, the company’s corpsman, who knew each member of the unit because he handled their medical paperwork, said it was had a tough time putting names to some of the faces during the 10-year reunion weekend.
"It’s been five or 10 years since I’ve seen them," he said. "I didn’t recognize a couple of them."
A lot has changed, it seems.
Lima Company's Lance Cpl. Bradley Hewitt walks through a palm grove near Haditha, Iraq, in 2005. Days prior, 11 Marines with the unit were killed in a roadside bomb attack.
Photo Credit: Jacob Silberberg/AP
While a decade has passed and some of the But one thing hasn’t – even 10 years later. Though their physical scars have for the most part faded, the memories have not.
Schneider said he learned to cope with the with his memories in part through his career as an occupational therapist. He was one of the Marines men who were severely burned in the May 2005 IED attackblast IED explosion in May 2005 — one of the Lima Company’s two IED incidents that caused the majority of its casualties. He underwent 15 surgeries, including extensive skin grafting, to repair his face and arms through extensive skin grafting.
Schneider brought his wife, Charlotte, and their his 9-week-old son to the reunion. It was the couple's ir one-year wedding anniversary, but instead of a romantic date, they ate dinner with Lima Marines and families.
"This is how much we wanted to be here," Charlotte Schneider said.
Schneider's His family was on the buses with the joined other veterans and their families on buses Saturday for the 30-mile trip to the memorial service south of Columbus. They were as the escorted by a dozen police cars and about 600 motorcycles. Traffic stopped on Interstate 270, while drivers and local firefighters stood at attention and saluted the unit led them to the memorial service 30 miles south of Columbus on Saturday.
"These Marines here are just at that point in their lives now when they begin to process what happened," said retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Orrin Bowman. "And that's why we're having this reunion — so these guys can reunite and reconnect."
Bowman didn't deploy with the unit, but instead had the difficult duty of making the 23 casualty assistance calls.
"We had nine funerals in five days," he said remembers. He thinks the survivors have needed the 10 years since their return to gain perspective on their losses and the guilt of being alive.
Since his retirement from the Marine Corps in 2006, Bowman has been active as president of the Mid-Ohio Marine Foundation and was part of the committee that organized the Lima Company’s five-year reunion. Although the memories from 10 years ago still haunt him at times, he said, "being here is great. It’s good therapy for me."
Staff Sgt. Brian Hamilton of Lima Company, 3/25, exits after searching a school on Aug. 6, 2005, near Haditha, Iraq. Three days before, an IED killed 14 Marines, many from this platoon, and a civilian interpreter, the deadliest roadside bombing suffered by American forces in the Iraq war.
Photo Credit: Jacob Silberberg/AP
Robert and Cherie Hoffman sat in the front of the bus, staring out at the firefighters and motorists lining the highway. "I don’t want to be here," Robert whispered to his wife. Cherie held his hand. Their son, Sgt. Justin Hoffman, died in an IED blast explosion in May 2005.
Being around the Marines and hearing stories of their deployment has helped the sergeant's Hoffmans parents find peace. Looking out for each other is what helped many of the Lima families, both those dealing with death and those dealing with being survivors. After walking around the hotel ballroom where the families had gathered and talking to Sgt. Hoffman’s friends, Cherie Hoffman was smiling.
"I got eight new numbers tonight, and I'm going to invite all of these kids over for dinner," she said.
During the memorial service at the base, Sgt. Maj. Dan Altieri, the top enlisted member of 25th Marines, read the final roll call of the fallendead Marines, but also noted that Lima Company’s deployment forged lasting friendships.
"We need to move forward remembering the good things," he said.
Retired Lt. Gen. Dennis McCarthy, who led Marine Corps Forces Reserve during Lima Company's 2005 deployment and served as the guest speaker during the reunion, agreed. He said the unit with Altieri and repeated that Lima should not be defined by its loss 22 Marines and its Navy Corpsman killed in action.
"I think it's not disrespectful at all to remember more than just the losses," he said. "Don't allow Lima's legacy to be all about the losses."