November ties deadliest month for U.S. troops
Cpl. Dale Burger Jr. and his father shared more than just a name. Both joined the Marines at 17 and both were combat veterans. As a boy, Burger dressed up in his dad’s uniform for Halloween. He helped care for his father after the older man became an invalid a decade ago.
Father and son now share one last thing – a grave site. Killed Nov. 14 in Iraq, Dale Jr., 21, of Bel Air, Md., was buried Monday at Arlington National Cemetery next to his father, a Vietnam veteran who died in May at 54.
“He said, ‘If anything happens to me, I want to be buried near my dad,”‘ said the younger man’s mother, Martina Burger.
The Pentagon reported at least 135 U.S. troops killed in November as of Tuesday morning, matching April of this year for the deadliest month since fighting began in March 2003.
Many, like Burger, died in the street-to-street fight to retake the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah or during gun battles in cities such as Baghdad and Mosul. Others were killed by snipers, in accidents, or from shrapnel sprayed by roadside bombs. Some died where they were hit; others succumbed at stateside military hospitals.
Twenty were from California, and 13 were Texas natives. Puerto Rico suffered its 11th fatality. Six were from the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, based in Hawaii; seven others from that battalion were killed Oct. 30.
The dead include Marine Cpl. Jarrod Maher, 21, who had helped his father plant soybeans at their Shenandoah, Iowa, farm on his last visit home in May.
Another was Brian Baker, 27, of West Seneca, N.Y., an Army specialist based at Fort Drum who was about to become the father of identical twin girls.
Army National Guard Spc. Quoc Binh “Bo” Tran was sent a care package by his mother containing his favorite dried noodles – “the Asian kind that are really good,” according to his 25-year-old sister, Kristie. Tran, 26, was killed Nov. 7 by a bomb in Baghdad. His family is not sure he got the noodles.
Tran’s father was once an officer in the South Vietnamese army. Sent to a re-education camp after the Vietnam War, he escaped from Vietnam with his family in 1986 by trudging through the jungle. They later settled in Mission Viejo, Calif.
Tran was a dutiful eldest child who helped with chores around the house. He joined the military because he liked to fix things. In the National Guard, he was a mechanic.
His family went out to his grave Sunday. Thanksgiving was the first time that one of them had missed a holiday gathering.
“It is completely unreal,” his sister said. “Every day we imagine him and think about him and cry.”
Spc. David Roustum, 22, was in his last semester of college when he got a call to active duty with the Army National Guard in March. His father, a native of Syria, urged him go there instead to avoid the fighting.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I would never even consider it,”‘ Russ Roustum recalled.
David Roustum was just a few months from finishing a degree in accounting at the University of Buffalo. At Orchard Park High School outside Buffalo, he was quarterback of the football team and captain of a club hockey squad.
He was killed Nov. 20 in an ambush in Baghdad. Three other soldiers from his 108th Infantry Regiment were wounded. The mothers of the wounded told his parents they believe Roustum saved their sons’ lives.
In a call a week before his death Nov. 12 in combat, Lance Cpl. David Branning, 21, told his stepmother that eight Marines had been killed in his company from the Hawaii-based unit. He said he was OK during the call to Tia Steele in Baltimore.
“It was like he didn’t want to quit talking, but he couldn’t say what was happening,” she recalled. “He was a Marine, so he couldn’t say he was scared. I thought he was going to come out of it. And he didn’t.”
Branning loved to cook, and worked his way up from dishwasher to a line cook at a restaurant while in high school. He enlisted in 2002, a year after graduating from Dulaney High, wanting to see the world beyond Baltimore.
Dale Burger Jr. took part in the initial assault on Iraq in 2003. He was just days away from the end of his second tour of duty when he died. He was wounded in the arm by shrapnel recently but told his mother he planned to return to the fighting. She urged him not to, but he said his unit was short on men and he was needed.
“He died doing what he believed in,” Martina Burger said. “He’s my hero. I’m just so proud of him.”