Iraq war revives Memorial Day meaning

Families of soldiers killed in Iraq honor their fallen relatives and soldiers abroad.
Monday, May 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:52 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

LOS ANGELES — On Memorial Day, Stacy Menusa will head to a cemetery with her 4-year-old son Joshua, who thinks every American flag waves for his father, just like the one that was draped over his coffin.

Menusa’s husband, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Menusa, was killed in an ambush on March 27, 2003, the day his battalion arrived in Iraq. She hopes one day she will be able to explain the war to Joshua.

For now, there is some comfort in his innocence.

“I’ll be driving down the road, and he’ll be freaking out, ‘Look, a flag for Daddy!’” the 32-year-old said from Santa Maria.

More than 800 U.S. servicemembers have died in Iraq, and because most of the casualties were after May 2003, this Memorial Day will be a more somber one. The deaths, combined with ongoing fighting and allegations of prisoner abuse, have taken their toll on support for the war.

But for the families of those killed, Memorial Day is not about politics or polls. It’s about honoring those who gave their lives for their country.

William Maher Jr. and his wife, Adeline, of Yardley, Pa., have agreed to let a TV news crew accompany them to the National Cemetery in Beverly, N.J., where their son, Army Spc. William J. Maher III, 35, is buried.

Adeline Maher said she hoped her family’s story would inspire the public to do more to support America’s troops.

For 43-year-old Deb Granahan, Memorial Day used to be a great excuse to hit the sales racks or strike up the grill for a family barbecue. This year, she will attend a parade in Middlebury, Conn., given in honor of her son, Pfc. Anthony D’Agostino, one of 16 U.S. soldiers killed when their helicopter was shot down Nov. 2 near Baghdad.

“I have such a different respect and understanding of Memorial Day,” she said. “I will remember not only my son, but others who have passed on and who have given us our freedom.”

Others take comfort in remembering the living — the 135,000 men and women still serving in Iraq.

Since her son died July 28, Adeline Maher has been involved in AdoptaPlatoon Soldier Support Effort, a nonprofit organization that connects deployed troops with pen pals.

Volunteers at Connecticut’s State Armory put together 1,500 care packages Saturday filled with lip balm, foot powder, sunscreen and nonperishable foods, as well as notes to the soldiers from school children and postcards signed by cartoonist Guy Gilchrist, a Connecticut resident.

“The soldiers have told us there’s nothing better than getting a letter or some picture drawn by a school child,” said drive organizer Sue Saidel.

For Stacy Menusa, there are reminders of her husband in 4-year-old Joshua, who like his father considers himself a “Mr. Fix-it” as he carts plastic tools around the house.

Before he left for Iraq, Joseph Menusa promised everything would be all right. When she’s down, Stacy looks at his pictures and thinks he might be right.

“He still picks me up,” she said, “even if he’s gone.”

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