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March 28, 2003

(AP Photo)
12 Marines Missing During S. Iraq Battle
At Least 12 Marines Listed As Missing in Action During Battle Near Southern Iraq Town of Nasiriyah

The Associated Press

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March 28

At least 12 Marines deployed to the war in Iraq have been reported missing during several days of fighting near the southern Iraq town of Nasiriyah.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon said seven of the missing are stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and another at the nearby Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station. Four soldiers from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were reported missing near Nasiriyah on Friday, but their names and other details were not disclosed.

They are sons, husbands, brothers and fathers from across the country whose loved ones are sharing pain and uncertainty, along with an aching hope for their safe return.

Cpl. Kemaphoom Chanawongse, 22, among those who remain unaccounted for, is known as "Chuckles" in his unit for his sparkling sense of humor.

Lance Cpl. Michael Williams, 31, is a "big teddy bear" who enlisted because of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Pfc. Tamario Burkett is known by friends and family as an artist and a doting big brother who worried before he left for Iraq whether God would forgive him if he had to kill someone in combat.

"You gotta be hopeful. That's all you can do is hope and pray and know that everything's in God's hands," said Raymond Wilson of Buffalo, Burkett's father.

Debra Nixon of Gallatin, Tenn., is shaken over the missing report of her 21-year-old son, Lance Cpl. Patrick Nixon. "I just wish they hadn't even told us," she said.

Nixon's father, David, is a Vietnam veteran, and the family has sent soldiers to World War I, World War II and Korea.

The other missing Marines were identified by the Pentagon as Lance Cpl. Thomas Blair, 24, of Broken Arrow, Okla.; Lance Cpl. Donald Cline Jr., 21, of Sparks, Nev.; Pvt. Jonathan Gifford Jr., 20, of Decatur, Ill., and Pvt. Nolen Ryan Hutchings, 19, of Boiling Springs, S.C.

Chanawongse, 22, who came to the United States from Thailand at age 9, was described warmly by friends, and his wit was visible Friday in a photo album of Marine life: a picture of a tank emerging from the woods is captioned, "Hey, which way is Domino's?"

Steve Cava, 22, said he last spoke with his friend shortly before Chanawongse deployed overseas. He said Chanawongse told him, "I'm going to be back soon. I just got to go do my thing and I'm coming home."

"They're not going to give up," Chanawongse's stepfather, Paul Patchem, said in Waterford, Conn. "I know the Marines. They won't give up on him."

From South Carolina, Larry Hutchings shared that faith as he and his wife, Carolyn, awaited word about their 19-year-old son.

"I put Carolyn to bed and told her they'll look for our son and find him somewhere behind a sand dune," Hutchings told the (Spartanburg) Herald-Journal.

Hutchings grew up wanting to be a Marine. Gifford, too, had considered military service for several years, his father said.

Burkett's six younger brothers and sisters, ages 1 to 18, kept close to their parents Friday, too upset to go to school, worried looks on the faces of those old enough to understand. Neighbors offered prayers and said they would tie yellow ribbons on trees up and down the street.

At 21, Burkett is the oldest of Raymond and Brenda Wilson's children. His letters home have had a special note for each sibling: Katrina, 15, should stay away from boys and 18-year-old Raymond should focus on school.

As he prepared for combat, Burkett didn't worry about his own safety, his mother said. "He said, 'Ma, God is going to forgive me if I kill someone over there?'" she said. "I said, 'Yes, you're doing what you have to do.'"

The Wilsons were told their son was helping secure a bridge near Nasiriyah when his unit came under fire. "They dispersed and that was the last they saw of him," Raymond Wilson said.

Donald Cline's wife, Tina, said she was encouraged by the fact that the military had found three of her husband's squadron members alive.

"I never prayed so hard that my muscles turned purple," she told KTVN-TV in Reno, Nev.

She said she and her sons, Dakota, 2, and Dylan, 7 months, are living with her mother. "Every time I look at my oldest son, I feel it in my heart I feel it so deeply that he is OK," she said.

Williams gave up his Phoenix flooring business to join the military after the Sept. 11 attacks, his fiancee, Heather Strange, told The Arizona Republic. His mother, Sandy Watson, called her 6-foot-4, 240-pound son a "big teddy bear."

"There's a lot of people praying for him," Watson said. "People at church and at work. With all that prayer behind him, how could he not be all right?"

Brenda Wilson said her phone has been ringing nonstop with calls of support, but so far, no news. "I'm praying with each ring it could be someone saying, 'We have your baby we found him. He's on his way home.'"

On the Net:

Camp Lejeune:

photo credit and caption:
An undated U.S. Marine Corps photo of Pvt. Jonathan L. Gifford Jr., 20, of Macon, Ill., who is one of eight Marines who haven't been seen since a battle Sunday near the southern Iraq town of An Nasiriyah, whose names were released by the Pentagon, Thursday, March 27, 2003. (AP Photo/USMC via WAND-TV)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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