Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Local Marine at front makes front page

Delhi couple recognize son in photograph

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For the residents of one Delhi Township home, the Marine who stared out from the front page of the Enquirer, flat on his belly in the Iraqi desert and clutching an assault rifle, was no nameless warrior. He was their son.

Tom and Marcia Webb instantly recognized the face that dominated Sunday's front page as that of their son, 23-year-old Lance Cpl. James T. Webb. He is a Marine of Task Force Tarawa who, for the past week, has been fighting his way through the Iraqi desert toward Baghdad.

Kristen Wirtz of Colerain Township recognized the photograph, as well. Webb is her boyfriend, whom she met more than two years ago after he finished Marine boot camp.

"It was pretty amazing," said Marcia Webb, "To see him there was reassuring in one way because I could see he is all right. At the same time, it's frightening."

She hasn't talked to her son since early January and got her last e-mail from him two weeks ago.

The photo came from Getty Images, shot by photographer Joe Raedle. Like many photos from the battlefront, it did not carry an identification of the Marine.

The Webbs had not seen the newspaper until another son called them Sunday morning and told them to look at the front page. The brother was sure it was James in the picture.

"I told him I've seen him on TV 18 times, because every Marine I look at looks like James," Tom Webb said. "But when I looked at it, there was no doubt."

Wirtz didn't see the picture until a friend told her about it.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing,'' Wirtz said. "It made me cry just to see him again.''

Her boyfriend, Wirtz said, is "just a good person, always smiling, always happy.''

Wirtz's best friend and roommate, Kristy Knab, said the Marine corporal is carrying a picture of Knab's daughter inside his helmet.

"A true sweetheart," Knab said.

The Webbs said they have long had a feeling that their son, a 1999 graduate of Oak Hills High School, would someday join the Marines. As a boy, he played with toy guns, wore camouflage clothes and acted out battles in the backyard.

"One of the first things that struck me when I saw that picture in the paper was the one I have (of him) laying in the front yard with a toy gun when he was a little boy," Marcia Webb said.

When he was a high school senior, he wrote a paper on "Why I Want to be a Marine.''

He did not enlist immediately after high school. He attended the University of Cincinnati two years before signing up. He went to boot camp about two weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Going into the Marines seemed like a good idea at the time, but who knew this would happen?" Marcia Webb said. "Now, all I want is for him to come home."

E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com

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