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Camp Pendleton honors 125 Marines and sailors killed in Afghanistan in the last year

May 20, 2011 | 11:45 am

For 78-year-old Harry Mixer, a retired Marine master gunnery sergeant who served in Korea and Vietnam, the event Friday hit all the important notes.

In a brief ceremony after the morning raising of the American flag, Marine brass remembered all the Marines who died in the last year in Afghanistan. An Afghanistan battle streamer was attached to the 1st Marine Division colors -- linking Afghanistan with battles of the past.

Both actions were important to Mixer -- respect for the fallen, and a reminder of the Marine Corps history of battles won, losses suffered and heroes recognized.

“It’s important for these young Marines to remember the heritage,” Mixer said. “They’re the tip of the spear at the front of the column now. The old Corps was tough, but these young Marines are just as tough.”

As an institution, one of the distinguishing features of the Marine Corps is its reverence for its history. Former Marines are invited to all ceremonies on this sprawling base: changes of command, memorials, award presentations, even ribbon-cuttings for a new barracks or water-treatment plant.

For example, at a change-of-command ceremony Thursday for the 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment, there were several rows of former Marines. A page in the program was devoted to the remembrance of a 1st Battalion, 4th Regiment Marine who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in Vietnam: Cpl. Larry L. Maxam.

And so Friday, as the Marines honored the 125 Marines and sailors killed in Afghanistan in the last year -- and another 2,000 wounded -- Mixer and other former Marines were in a place of honor as a bugler played taps, followed by a bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace."

Monthly ceremonies had been held in the same location -- in front of the division headquarters -- in the year in which the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force was in command of all Marines in Afghanistan.

In mid-March, that authority passed to Marine brass from Camp Lejeune, N.C.

On Friday, the names were read of the last eight Marines killed in Afghanistan while the Camp Pendleton command unit was in charge -- including the final one, Cpl. Ian Muller, 22, of Danville, Vt., killed on March 11.

Of the 125, only about half were from Camp Pendleton. The rest were from other Marine bases but under the command of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and its ground-combat arm, the 1st Marine Division.

If Mixer and others were thinking of past battles, the generals were thinking of battles yet to be fought in Helmand province, where brass expects the Taliban to mount a counteroffensive to reclaim key terrain.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Osterman, who commanded Marine combat troops in Afghanistan during the last year, noted it will be Camp Pendleton’s turn to replace troops in that war zone from Camp Lejeune and other bases.

“It will only be a few short months,” he said, “and we’ll be back in combat.”


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Photo: One hundred and twenty-five Marines and sailors killed in Afghanistan in the last year, and another 2,000 wounded, were honored at a ceremony Friday morning at Camp Pendleton. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times