With tears in his eyes, Gov. Ed Rendell yesterday ordered state flags in Pennsylvania to be flown at half staff until Sept. 11 to honor Pennsylvania Army National Guardsmen killed in Iraq.Christopher Millette, Harrisburg Patriot-News via AP
Five guardsmen were killed in two separate incidents in Iraq Tuesday, and two were killed Saturday. Six of the seven were from the same company, the Philadelphia-based A Company of the 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment.
"They were police officers, firefighters and youth counselors," the governor said at a news conference in Harrisburg. "They were husbands, fathers, and beloved sons. They were young and middle aged, black and white.
"Their deaths bring home the crushing reality of war to Pennsylvanians. It shows there is a price to pay for what we are doing to fight terrorism."
Brig. Gen. Jerry Beck, a deputy commander of the 28th Division, to which the 111th Infantry belongs, announced at a news conference in Philadelphia the deaths of Spcs. Gennaro Pellegrini, 31, and Francis Straub Jr., 24, both of Philadelphia; and Pfcs. John Kulick, 35, of Jenkintown, and Nathaniel Detample, 19, of Morrisville.
They were killed around midnight Tuesday while on patrol near the town of Beiji, 150 miles north of Baghdad, when the Humvees in which they were riding were attacked by a roadside bomb, and then by small arms fire. Three other soldiers were slightly wounded.
Earlier in the evening, Staff Sgt. Bryan Ostrom, 25, of the Williamsport-based B Company of the 109th Infantry, was killed by small arms fire while conducting combat operations in the town of Habiniyah, about 55 miles west of Baghdad.
Rendell had met Ostrom when he flew to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, in late June to visit the 2nd Brigade Combat Team before it departed for its mission in Iraq.
"I was as close to him as I am to you now," the governor told reporters, his voice cracking.
On Saturday, two soldiers, also from Company A of the 111th Infantry, Spc. Karl E. Krout, 35, of Spinnerstown, and Sgt. Brahim Jeffcoat, 25, of Philadelphia, were killed when their convoy was struck by a roadside bomb near Balad.
The seven deaths in four days raised to 14 the total number of Pennsylvania guardsmen who have died of all causes since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began.
The rash of fatalities this week has stunned and saddened but not discouraged their fellow guardsmen, said Capt. Cory Angell, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Guard, at a news conference in Williamsport.
"The bottom line from all our correspondence [from guardsmen] in Iraq is that our soldiers are more resolved than ever to carry on the fight," Angell said.
More than 10,000 Pennsylvania guardsmen have served in Iraq. More than 3,000 are there now as part of the largest deployment of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard since World War II.
Pennsylvania is the sixth largest state but has the third largest Army National Guard, after California and Texas. According to the Associated Press, Tuesday's deaths bring the number of Pennsylvanians in all branches of the military who have died in Iraq to 92, which also ranks third, behind California and Texas.
The governor ordered state flags flown at half staff until Sept. 11 both because of the significance of the 9/11 date, and because it is a full 30 days from his order, said Adrian King, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Four Western Pennsylvanians are among the national guardsmen who have died in Iraq.
Sgt. Carl Morgain, 40, of Butler, was killed by a suicide bomber near Tikrit on May 22nd. Spcs. Carl Curran, 22, of Union City, and Mark Kasecky, 20, of McKees Rocks, drowned May 17, 2004, when their Humvee, damaged in a roadside bomb attack, overturned in a canal near Fallujah. Spc. Clifford Moxley, 51, of New Castle, died of a heart attack on Sept. 25, 2004.
The other Pennsylvania guardsmen who have died since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began are:
Sgt. Sherwood Russell Baker, 30, of Plymouth, was killed April 26, 2004, by an explosion in a Baghdad warehouse he was searching for chemical weapons.
Sgt. Christopher Geiger, 38, of Allentown, died July 9, 2003, in Afghanistan in a non combat-related incident.
Sgt. Stephen P. Allseits, 47, of Philadelphia, died in a boating accident in Idaho Aug. 5.