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Death toll for U.S. soldiers in Iraq reaches 2,000
Scripps Howard News Service


October 25, 2005
Tuesday PM

WASHINGTON - The 2,000th soldier to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom died Saturday, but the Pentagon just released his name Tuesday.

It was a grim milestone in the war that began a little more than two and a half years ago.

Lisa Short, of Marion, Ill., lost her 20-year-old son Aaron Pickering 11 months ago. She watches the news from Iraq every day, and she said Tuesday afternoon she'd just heard that 2,000 had been reached.

"Two thousand makes me feel no different than one," she said. "It's all a loss, it doesn't matter how little or great. They're all individual lives that have been taken. I just often wonder what the end number will be."

Short is no stranger to loss. Her 17-year-old daughter Carrie died in a car accident in 1999. She has no children left to comfort her.

"I had to pull myself together because I had a son. This time it seems like the grief gets worse. I've lost my focus," she said, her voice breaking. "My faith sustains me, although it seems like I'm searching for it right now."

She said this week is particularly emotional because he would have turned 21 Friday.

His stepmother, Teresa Pickering, in Harrisburg, Ill., was watching the news anxiously, too. Yesterday, the tally was 1,996, and she said she thought: "2,000 is getting ready to roll around, and I just really, really feel sad. My heart's breaking that other families are going through this."

Diane Ibbotson of Albion, Ill., lost her first-born son in Iraq. Forest Jostes, 21, died April 4, 2004. She's frustrated that this is even a story.

"The focus on the media seems to be on the cost of war only, and not the accomplishments," Ibbotson said.

She lists accomplishments without hesitation: The Iraqi constitution just approved, which vows to fight terrorism and to stand for non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

She's furious that activists will use this milestone as a reason to call for withdrawal.

"To use their sacrifice as a statistic, for a political agenda is wrong. It's disgraceful," she said.

Ibbotson is an activist in support of the war's mission, and she said she was asked when she demonstrated in Washington last month: "What price are you willing to pay? How many lives should we commit to winning the war on terror?"

She said her answer is: "When we're willing to tell our children and our grandchildren that fear and oppression and tyranny hold the reins of their future, then the cost of freedom will be too great."

She said Forest "died for freedom's sake. I wouldn't want his graveside to be where the hopes and the dreams of a great nation were laid to rest."

Darren DeBlanc of Evansville, Ind., died at age 20 in Iraq, making his mother's worst fears come true. His brother Michael says their mother Judy was totally against his enlistment because of the war. But at 18, Darren didn't want to go to college, and joining the Army was what he decided to do instead of getting a factory job like Michael.

"He said he'd be all right, that they'd train him good," DeBlanc said.

But later, when he went to Iraq, he began to worry. He told Michael "all these guys say they're ready to die for their country. He said he wasn't. There was too much he wanted to do. He was just counting down the days until he could get out."

On Saturday, Darren will have been dead six months.

"I think about it every day, and it sucks that he never got to do the things he wanted to do," DeBlanc said, his voice cracking with grief.

DeBlanc said he has mixed emotions about the war.

"I don't think we should've went in, but I don't think we should leave. If you leave now, you're saying my brother died for a lost cause," DeBlanc says.

His mother disagrees. She wants an immediate withdrawal.

"If she could save one more mother from going through what she went through it'd be worth it," he said she believes.


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