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Rebuilding Iraq

American life, foreign death

Families say slain marines were convinced of the justness of war's cause

By Globe Staff, 2/01/1991

This story was reported by Globe staffers Larry Tye, Renee Graham, Ross Gelbspan and Alex Reid and was written by Tye.

he first American soldiers killed in battle in the Persian Gulf ground war all were under age 28. Most were in their teens or early 20s, not long out of high school, and with little sense of their future. All but one was from the sort of Middle American community that has provided most of the warriors for this war.

And, according to family members who would discuss it, the 11 slain Marines identified yesterday all firmly believed they were fighting for a cause both just and necessary. "He was dedicated to serving his country and believed in what the United States was doing in the Middle East," said Barbara Anderson, mother of slain Marine Cpl. Stephen E. Bentzlin. "He thought the country was doing what had to be done."

Bruce Nolan Walker, whose son Daniel also was killed by Iraqi troops, was equally resolute: Daniel "was very proud to be a Marine. He and I talked about this war and we both felt Saddam Hussein is a madman who must be stopped. I feel he died bravely and nobly in a noble cause, and what more may we ask of a man?"

James T. Stephenson made a simple request on behalf of his son Dion, also a Marine and a casualty. "I hope everyone could just remember him as an American hero," said the father, who served in Vietnam and now lives in Bountiful, Utah.

"My boy's death was not in vain."

Dion J. Stephenson, like most of the 220,000 Marines in the all-volunteer force, enlisted shortly after graduating from high school. He had served three of his scheduled four years when he was killed mid-week near the Saudi Arabian town of Khafji.

The remains of Dion Stephenson, who at 22 was the oldest of three boys, will be escorted home by his 19-year-old brother Shaun, who also is a Marine stationed in Saudi Arabia.

Bentzlin, 23, was another of the 11 soldiers identified yesterday by the Pentagon as having been killed this week in ground battles in the gulf.

Bentzlin was born in St. Paul and in 1975 moved to Wood Lake, a rural Minnesota community with a population of about 480. In school he was an avid participant in football, basketball and track, said his mother, head of the Non-Violence Network, which operates a shelter for battered women and children.

He and his wife, Carol, celebrated their first anniversary Dec. 29, and he was scheduled to leave the military in July.

"It is a terrible time for all of us. We loved him," his mother said.

Unlike Bentzlin, most of these first fatalities in the ground war were single. They were, their families said yesterday, unsure of the future -- uncertain whether to remain in the service, use the military benefits to attend college or pursue an as-yet-undetermined career. For the most part, they joined the Marines for the schooling or discipline it offered -- or for lack of anything better to do.

Daniel Walker, a 20-year-old lance corporal, was a "very private type of kid," Karen Littrell, who taught him math at Whitehouse High School, recalled yesterday. "He was liked by students in the class, we never had any trouble from Danny. He came into the classroom and always did what he was supposed to do."

Students at Whitehouse had been writing to Walker yesterday as part of an adopt-a-soldier campaign. When they learned of his death, Littrell said, "they became very upset."

Whitehouse, a suburb of Tyler, Texas, is the kind of small town that seems to have contributed more than its share of recruits to the all-volunteer services launched in 1973. A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that Wyoming, West Virginia and other more-rural states in the South, West and Midwest have sent more than their share of volunteers, given their populations, while Massachusetts, California, Connecticut and some other urban states have sent fewer soldiers.

All 11 Marines had been based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. All died, the Pentagon said, as the light armored vehicles in which they were riding encountered combat.

"The mood is a sombre one right now," said Capt. Roseann Sgrignoli, a spokeswoman for the camp, which was home to 36,000 Marines and a smaller number of Army and Navy reservists.

"The fact that we lost those Marines means we lost part of our family," she added. "We feel it in our hearts."

Chaplains, counselors and other military family members tried to console families of the slain soldiers yesterday, Sgrignoli said, adding that "we need each other's help. A friend is the most important person right now."

Michael E. Linderman, Jr., another of the slain soldiers, "made friends easily," according to his grandmother, Freda Sigfridson. The 19-year-old lance corporal of Douglas, Ore., was married last year.

Like many young men in the all-volunteer service, Linderman joined "because it was a good opportunity for schooling," his grandmother told the Roseburg, Ore., News-Review. "He didn't join because he wanted to go to war."

Last year, Linderman sent his grandparents a portrait of himself in full Marine dress, inscribing on the back: "Grandmother & Grandfather -- Thank you so much for all the love and support throughout the years. I love you very much! I'll visit you in Roseburg every chance I can. Love you bunches. Michael."

Scott A. Schroeder, 20, graduated from high school two years ago in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. The former varsity soccer player was "very likeable, very well liked by students, the kind of kid you like to have around," according to his former high school principal, Thomas C. Kneusel.

Relatives descended yesterday on the Schroeders' two-story brick tudor home, which had both a red Marine Corps flag and a large American flag hung by the entrance.

A former classmate, Mike Elmasri, a senior at Wauwatosa East High School, told the Milwaukee Journal that "it hits close to home. Before, this would have been a statistic. Now you understand it could have been you or your older brother."

Other victims of this week's ground battles were Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Jenkins, 20, who was from Mariposa, Calif., and Lance Cpl. James H. Lumpkins, 22, of New Richmond, Ohio, who studied cosmetology in high school and had worked in several Cincinnati-area salons.

Last night, the Defense Department completed its listing of the 11 dead by releasing these names: Lance Cpl. Frank C. Allen, 22, of Wainae, Hawaii; Cpl. Ismael Cotto, 27, of New York City; Sgt. Garett A. Mongrella, 25, of Belvidere, N.J.; and Lance Cpl. David T. Snyder, 21, of Kenmore, N.Y.

Since the start of the gulf war two weeks ago, another 10 Americans have been killed in noncombat activities, according to the Pentagon. And 105 Americans were listed as noncombat deaths in Operation Desert Shield before the war began.

Seven US soldiers are missing in action, the Pentagon said, and eight are prisoners of war.

Anderson, the mother of one of the dead soldiers, expressed a view echoed by others when she said yesterday, "I hope this war ends soon so other families won't have to live through something like this."

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