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Tears to mourn, laughter to remember

By JOHN PENDYGRAFT, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 2, 2003

There was another memorial service today. Two memorials in about a week's time would provide a different perspective if put in the context of the entire war, or even in relation to a small town.

But this is a very small community of pilots and crews and many of those at this service knew the Marines who died in both crashes. Most will fly again tomorrow. One of the planned speakers for the service was sent on a mission that conflicted, so another Marine read his remarks.

In a nutshell, the Marines have to remain profoundly unaffected by the deaths of their friends. Their determination, resolve, discipline and performance can't waver. I imagine that's a difficult mental trick to pull off.

Most of the service was about the fallen Marines, but there was an undertone, delivered by the commanding officers: Mourn the loss by carrying on with the task at hand. It is what they would have wanted.

Sgt. Anthony Gilleland was weeping when the speaker made a joke about one of the victims; a large man who loved to ride a small motorcycle he owned. The joke came as Gilleland was wiping a tear, and everyone, including Gilleland, laughed at the memory of the big man on his little bike.

That moment, with Gilleland laughing hard while crying, said something to me. The Marines here have a lot of extra emotional work when their friends die.

They have to be able to mourn them, laugh at them the way they did a just few days ago and carry on with their duties. There's also the danger of thinking too much about the fact that what happened to their friends yesterday could happen to them or anyone else here tomorrow.

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