As the toll passes 2,000, asap's COLLEEN LONG takes a look at the first military deaths in the war -- six men who died in combat and a helicopter crash.
Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez. The name probably doesn't ring a bell. Neither, most likely, will Marine Capt. Ryan Anthony Beaupre.
Pulled up from the news archives, these men are better known to the world by their corresponding numbers, if they're known at all. They are among the first six members of the U.S. military killed in Iraq, in March 2003, just days after the official start of a war aimed at keeping Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction.
The conflict -- no longer declared a war, though people still die daily -- rages on, and the numbers climb, slow and steady. Two has turned into 12, and 20, and 200. Now, 2,000.
These people were daughters and sons, husbands and wives from city streets and rural hamlets all over the country. Some were athletes, others were bookish. They were brash and outgoing, reserved and quiet. Different people, bound together by their deaths, notched in a timeline of events that awaits a clear conclusion.
With seemingly endless reports of explosions, the conflict has become part of everyday life. It's easy these days to shuffle Iraq to the back burner, to focus on other dangers close to home. Hurricane Katrina, for example, killed 1,053 people -- more than half the total of American deaths in Iraq. Some people are mired in whispers of danger, like the threat of bird flu.
The American military death toll reached 2,001 on Wednesday after four more deaths were reported, including an Army sergeant who died of wounds at a military hospital in Texas and a Marine and a sailor killed last week in fighting west of Baghdad.
This figure is high or low, depending on how you look at it. On D-Day, thousands of troops lost their lives. During the peak of Vietnam war, hundreds of soldiers were dying each day. But the Iraq conflict has claimed more than three times the number of Americans lost during the Persian Gulf War. And the majority of these deaths come after President Bush's speech on an aircraft carrier declaring an end to major combat operations, under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished."
As the toll rises, asap looks back to March 21, 2003, the day the first U.S. soldiers were killed just two days after the war began. Gutierrez and Marine 2nd Lt. Therrell Shane Childers were killed in a gunfight. The other four -- Marine Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin, Marine Capt. Ryan Anthony Beaupre, Marine Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy and Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey -- were killed when a helicopter accidentally crashed in Kuwait, near the Iraqi border.
Go back and read those names again. These people lived. They were real men who had families and plans they will never see fulfilled. They deserve a second look. They all do.
Reached Wednesday, many of their families chose not to speak. They just aren't doing well, as one woman at the Beaupre home put it. It's hard to blame them. They must watch others lose their loved ones as the conflict rages on.
Here are brief snapshots of the six, compiled over the past two-and-a-half years by The Associated Press.
Marine Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin
Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin was piloting a helicopter with three other U.S. Marines and eight British Marines aboard when it crashed in Kuwait. It was ruled an accident; there was no gunfire. His mother, Nancy Chaplain, told The Associated Press that blowing sand and smoke from burning oil wells were thought to be a factor.
Aubin was stationed in Yuma, Ariz., and was married to Rhonda Aubin. The couple had two children. He grew up in Skowhegan, Maine, and joined the Marines after high school. He served four years before going to the University of Southern Maine, then re-enlisted after graduation.
Marine Capt. Ryan Anthony Beaupre
Ryan Anthony Beaupre had an easy smile and unruly red hair. Beaupre, 30, also died in the helicopter crash. He was from the tiny town of St. Anne, Ill., and was a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University.
Beaupre joined the Marine Corps in 1995. His high school track coach, Ken Klipp, has said Beaupre never shrank from a challenge and had a "light-up-the-room smile."
"As it spread across his face, it melted your heart."
Marine 2nd Lt. Therrell Shane Childers
"His idea of fun was skiing, backpacking, anything to keep in shape for the Marines," his brother-in-law, Army Sgt. Richard Brown, has said. Childers, 30, based at Camp Pendleton, died after being shot in Iraq.
He grew up in a military family, primarily in Harrison County, Miss., and enlisted after high school. He served in the 1991 Gulf War. Childers was said to be a born leader, serious and focused. He built his life around being a Marine.
Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez
Jose Gutierrez grew up an orphan in Guatemala, crossed the border illegally, obtained a visa, graduated from high school and eventually became a Marine. He was posthumously given U.S. citizenship.
Gutierrez was shot during a March 21 firefight with Iraqi forces near the port town of Umm Qasr.
He found his way into Los Angeles County's foster care system, graduated from high school and attended community college. Partly to repay the United States, he became an infantry rifleman based at Camp Pendleton.
Marine Cpl. Brian Matthew Kennedy
Brian Matthew Kennedy was thrilled to be helping liberate Iraq.
"Our son and brother proudly volunteered to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps," his father, Mark D. Kennedy, said shortly after his death. "He gave his life in an effort to contribute to the freedom of the Iraqi people."
Kennedy, 25, of Houston, died in the helicopter crash. He graduated from high school in 1995 in Glenview, Ill., then attended Purdue University before transferring to Texas Tech University in 1998. He enlisted in 1999 and was stationed at Camp Pendleton.
Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey
Kendall Damon Waters-Bey, 29, grew up in Baltimore, the oldest of five children and the only son. In high school he loved swimming and track, and his sisters called him a jokester. He died in the helicopter crash.
"He was always making faces, making people laugh," Michelle Waters has said. "And he loved to barbecue -- ribs, especially." He had a son, Kenneth, and left behind a wife of 11 months, Belinda.