On the morning before Christmas, a Marine's remains return from Afghanistan
Crouse, 22, from Woodruff, S.C., was the 161st Marine killed in Afghanistan this year, according to the independent website www.icasualties.org.
Of those, 60 were from Camp Pendleton in Southern California. Others, like Crouse, were from other Marine bases but, in Afghanistan, were attached to the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
Crouse and his bomb-sniffing dog were killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand province. He had been in Afghanistan for six weeks as Marines continue their mission to wrest away control of what has long been a Taliban stronghold.
His mother, Nancy Siders of Fort Wayne, Ind., told the newspaper in Greenville, S.C. that her son's dying concern was for his dog.
"My son was coherent for a brief period, and his biggest concern was 'where is my dog? Save my dog. Put him in the Medevac with me. Save his life,'" she said.
The dog was put in the helicopter with Crouse but died. It was the Marines' fifth bomb-sniffing dog to be killed in combat.
Crouse was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 10th Regiment, from Camp Lejeune, N.C. He played football in high school and joined the Marines, his mother said, because "he always lived life on the edge."
Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos and Sgt.-Major Carlton Kent, the top enlisted man in the Marine Corps, are in Afghanistan to spend the holidays with the Marines.
Standing on a tank at Camp Leatherneck, Amos told Marines from Camp Pendleton and other bases that he brought a message of thanks from President Barack Obama. He added his own appreciation.
"I'm honored to be in your presence," Amos told the troops. "I want to say thank you and God bless every one of you and Merry Christmas."
(The tanks have recently arrived in Afghanistan from Camp Pendleton and will soon be put into action as the fight against the Taliban intensifies.)
For Christmas, officers are trying to ensure that Marines in far-flung outposts around Helmand province get at least an upgraded dinner and maybe a chance to phone home.
But for the most part, Marines will be going on patrols, making efforts to win support from Afghan civilians, and confronting the possibility of a firefight, ambush or roadside bomb.
"Christmas will be a lot like the day before and the day after_ this fight does not go away," said Col. Paul Kennedy, commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 2. "This enemy does not take a break from plying his treachery."
-- Tony Perry in San Diego
Photo: Casket of Marine Lance Cpl. William H. Crouse IV returns to Dover Air Force Base. Credit: Associated Press