[ WAR IN IRAQ ]
Families recollect fallen
sons’ last words
Two Kaneohe-based servicemen
are among 22 U.S. troops killed
this week in Fallujah
It was a rainy Veterans Day when two Marines knocked on the door of Carl Pickering at 5:30 a.m. in a tiny southern Illinois town near the Kentucky border.
About 600 miles away, at 6 a.m., a chaplain and a Navy recruiter were at the door of Carolyn Woods' Jacksonville, Fla., home.
Their message was the same.
In three days of intensive fighting in Iraq, Lance Cpl. Aaron Pickering and Navy Petty Officer Julian Woods had been killed Wednesday in Fallujah, in one of the more deadly offensives of the war.
Neither family was told how their son died.
Woods, a Navy corpsman, was assigned to 3rd Marine Regiment Detachment at Kaneohe. Pickering, of Harrisburg, Ill., was with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, from Kaneohe Bay.
Since the U.S. invasion began in March 2003, 35 soldiers, nine Marines, one sailor and one civilian with ties to Hawaii have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan or Kuwait.
Woods, 22, graduated in 2000 from Ed White High School in Jacksonville. He leaves a 3-year-old daughter, Israel, who is with her mother, also in the Navy stationed in Virginia. Woods was in the fourth year of a six-year enlistment.
"He was a joy," Woods' mother, Carolyn, told a Florida television station. "They took my child but I'm proud."
She told the St. Augustine Record that when her son joined the Navy, they both understood the risks and that it would not always be a peaceful job.
"I gave him my blessing when he joined," Woods said. "He died for his country and other people."
Woods did not know when her son was supposed to return from Iraq or where he was at any given time because he was not allowed to say in e-mails or phone calls.
"He didn't die (for nothing)," Woods said. "He died a hero's death. He was doing a job he didn't mind doing.
"I always told him whatever job he did to give it your best."
Pickering was the ninth member of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, to die since the unit arrived in Iraq about a month ago.
Carl Pickering's loss was extremely tough, said his wife, Teresa, since he lost his other child -- a daughter, Carrie -- in a car accident five years ago, when she was 17.
Teresa Pickering told the Star-Bulletin that her stepson was remembered during the town's Veterans Day service at the American Legion hall. Schools in Harrisburg remembered Pickering yesterday with a moment of silence.
Flags are flying at half-staff throughout the town of about 10,000 people, she said. "There are yellow and black ribbons all over our town."
Funeral services are pending.
Pickering was one of 22 Marines, sailor and soldiers who have been killed since the battle for Fallujah began on Monday. As of yesterday, 178 were wounded.
Pickering enlisted in the Marine Corps in September 2003 after graduating from Harrisburg High School in 2002, where played golf and basketball and ran track, his stepmother said.
In his senior year, Pickering was a state golf champion, she added, "and also was a very good hunter and fisherman."
Teresa Pickering said her stepson surprised his parents when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. However, he might have been influenced by a cousin who was a Marine and "whom he always looked up to."
Pickering was assigned to Kaneohe in January and went home in June for a visit. His stepmother said he did not expect to be sent to Iraq. "He had been told that when he got back to Hawaii, he would be going to Okinawa and Australia," she said.
The last time Pickering called home was Nov. 1.
"He said then he wouldn't be able to call for a while because something was up," his stepmother said.
Other survivors include his mother, Lisa Short of nearby Marion, Ill., and a stepsister, Cristina Harmon.
Sixteen soldiers, nine Marines, one sailor and one civilian with Hawaii ties have been killed in Iraq since the war started on March 19, 2003. Of the 26 deaths in Iraq, 24 were due to hostile action. One soldier was killed in Kuwait last year.
Nine of the deaths in Iraq were members of the 25th Infantry Division. Seven other 25th Division soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.
The nearly 900 members of the 1st Battalion left Kaneohe in July for what was supposed to be a normal seven-month deployment with the Marines in Okinawa. They make up the crucial ground-combat element of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Within a month the infantry Marines from Kaneohe, along with 70 aviators, crew members and six CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 from the same Windward Oahu base, were alerted for duty in Iraq.
The Kaneohe Marines arrived in Iraq in mid-October and suffered their first major casualties two weeks ago when seven where killed by a suicide bomber who drove into their convoy in Fallujah.
The Kaneohe Marines are expected to remain in Iraq until May.
Nearly 6,000 soldiers and Marines from Hawaii are fighting in Iraq. Nearly 5,000 are members of the 25th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team. The Hawaii Army National Guard has deployed 14 CH-47 Chinook helicopters and 200 members of Charlie Company, 193rd Aviation, to Baghdad in support of the 1st Infantry Division.
Of the 600 members belonging to the Pacific Army Reserve's 411th Combat Engineer Battalion sent to Iraq in March, 300 are from Hawaii. The Army Reserve unit is assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad.