The 2,500th killed in Iraq
A Kaneohe Marine's death on patrol becomes a war milestone
Kaneohe Marine Cpl. Michael Estrella became Wednesday the 2,500th member of the U.S. armed forces to die in Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Pentagon has confirmed.
Kaneohe spokesman 2nd Lt. Binford Strickland said Marine Corps headquarters confirmed the figure before it announced Estrella's death yesterday.
Cpl. Michael Estrella, 20
"He said he needed to be with his brothers, which is how he described his fellow Marines," said his mother, Maria Estrella
The morbid milestone was reached while Congress debated resolutions regarding the Iraq war effort.
Reacting to the milestone, White House press secretary Tony Snow said Thursday, "It's a number." He said that President Bush "feels very deeply the pain that the families feel."
As the updated death toll was announced at the Pentagon, the House and Senate held moments of silence.
Since 2003, the Pentagon said, there have been 1,972 service members killed in action in Iraq, and another 528 died from nonhostile causes. There also have been 18,490 troops wounded in action, including 8,501 who did not return to duty.
About 4,800 Iraqi police and security forces have died during the war, and at least 30,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed.
Estrella, a field radio operator, was cut down by small-arms fire in Al Anbar province while on patrol. He was on his second combat tour, serving in Afghanistan last year with Kaneohe Bay's 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
Estrella, of Hemet, Calif., is the ninth Marine from Kaneohe to die in Iraq this year since the 3rd Battalion arrived there in March.
Estrella's mother tried repeatedly to talk him out of a military career after he graduated from a Southern California high school three years ago.
But the Riverside Press-Enterpise newspaper reported yesterday Estrella, 20, told his mother, Maria, it was his duty to serve and that he was willing to lay down his life, if need be.
"He said he needed to be with his brothers, which is how he described his fellow Marines," Maria Estrella told the newspaper. "He said, 'Mom, if it happens, it happens. It's God's will.'"
Maria Estrella said she believes her son had a premonition of his fate. He recently had his car shipped home from Kaneohe, where he had been based since May 2004.
His great-grandfather Victor Gonzalez Sr. had served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and Estrella dreamed of a military career, his mother told the newspaper.
"He was very loving, always smiling. He always said he'll be there for me," Maria Estrella said of her son, the eldest of six children.
She said she last spoke to her son Sunday, when he called to ask about his great-grandfather, who has not been feeling well.
Estrella's grandfather also told the newspaper that his grandson loved serving in high school JROTC.
Estrella was a flight commander in charge of 30 cadets during his two years as a JROTC cadet, said Col. Fred Strain, senior instructor of the program.
"He excelled in our program, he was dedicated and he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and that was to join the Marines," Strain said. "I think he was looking forward to the adventure and the discipline, and looking forward to how a career in the military could shape him as a man."
Estrella joined the Marine Corps in September 2003. He was with the 3rd Battalion when it deployed to Afghanistan from November 2004 to June 2005.
His awards included the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment ribbon.
Estrella is survived by his mother and father, Francisco.
The 3rd Battalion is supposed to return to Kaneohe Bay this fall. Next spring, another Kaneohe unit, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is in the Iraq combat rotation cycle.
Since the United States invaded Iraq in March 2003, 55 Kaneohe Marines and two sailors have died in Iraq. Eleven Kaneohe Marines and six sailors have died in Afghanistan.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.