On April 22, 2008, Marine combat battalions First Battalion Ninth Marines - known as The Walking Dead - and Second Battalion Eighth Marines - known as America's Battalion - were switching tours of duty in Ramadi, Iraq.
The sergeant squad leader ordered Marines Corporal Jonathan Yale, 22, and Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter, 20, to guard the entrance to a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines and 100 Iraqi police. He told them to let no unauthorized vehicle through.
A few minutes later, a large blue truck loaded with explosives barreled toward the entrance. While many scrambled for safety, the two Marines carried out their orders. They opened fire on the truck and stood their ground. Six second later, the blast from the truck killed the men.
T-R PHOTO BY DAVID ALEXANDER
A volunteer takes a wreath from Michael Peak to place on a stand representing the United States Coast Guard in the Iowa Veterans Home Leisure Resource Center Saturday as part of the Wreaths Across America ceremony. The wreath is one of seven symbolizing veterans lost in the each branch of the United States military and POWs and those missing in action.
Their allies were safe.
"This is the kind of people who are on watch all over the world for us today," said State Captain Steve Cox, his voice cracking, tears in his eyes.
Cox's remarks were part of Wreaths Across America ceremony Saturday at the Iowa Veterans Home's Leisure Resource Center. The commemoration honors veterans who have died serving in a branch of the military by symbolically placing wreaths representing each branch of the military.
Iowa Veterans Home Commandant David Worley said the presentation is a way to recognize the sacrifices veterans make and to remind them that they are not alone during the holidays.
The presentation began with Ray Needham, Iowa State Chaplain for the Patriot Guard Riders, giving the invocation and asking for a moment of silence for the children who died Friday in Newtown, Conn.
"All of us who served realize children are the heart of why we defend this county," he said.
Mike Luken, coordinator on behalf of Wreaths Across America, said it isn't just vets who make sacrifices, it's their families too. Wreaths Across America represents America's solidarity. Freedom isn't free, he said. It has a cost.
Luken quoted President Ronald Reagan, saying "freedom is never more than a generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."
Sydnie Gutosky, 17, and Johna Ash, 18, with Grundy Center First Baptist Church, sang the National Anthem and "Amazing Grace."
The wreath laying began. In turn, seven people made their way down an aisle that ended with seven wreaths stands sitting between the national and state flags.
First, Ruth Freeburg placed the wreath for the Army. Next, Nilus Seuferer did the same for the Navy. Charles Phillips then placed the Marines wreath followed by John Rude for the Air Force. Michael Peak placed the Coast Guard's wreath, and Lyle Fox placed the Merchant Marine's. Finally, Al Packer, a World War II prisoner of war, hung the wreath honoring all those who have been listed as POWs or as missing in action.
Tom (Robby) Robinson, president of the Iowa chapter of Rolling Thunder, reminded the roughly 75 people in attendance that America still has a prisoner of war in Afghanistan and encouraged anyone who is a relative of someone who went MIA to get their DNA tested. He called DNA testing a "game changer," saying that the government recently used it to identify a lost solider from World War I.
"Taps" rang out from J.D. Jefferson and Jonathon Kruger's trumpets.
Wreaths Across America began in 2006 as an extension of the Arlington Wreath Project, which began 25 years ago, that lays 5,000 donated wreathes in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Now, 230 cemeteries participate across the county yearly on a specified Saturday in December.
Worley said is he unaware of a veteran cemetery that does not participate. And that's as it should be.
"Those men and women have paved the way for us to live in the greatest and freest county in the history of civilization," he said.