Thursday, May 29, 2003

Ft. Stewart remembers comrade

Hamilton soldier 35th unit casualty

By Russ Bynum
The Associated Press

FORT STEWART, Ga. - In one of his last letters, Pfc. Marlin T. Rockhold signed off with a note of relief: "Thank God the war is over." It arrived in the mail the day before the slain soldier's memorial.

Rockhold's wife, sister-in-law, friends and about 250 soldiers attended an outdoor memorial Wednesday for the 23-year-old soldier killed while directing traffic on a Baghdad bridge. Rockhold, of Hamilton, Ohio, was shot by a sniper May 8, a week after President Bush declared an end to major fighting in Iraq. He was the 35th war casualty of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart.

The post planted an eastern redbud tree in Rockhold's honor, with a granite marker bearing his name, at its "Warriors' Walk" where a tree stands for each soldier killed in the war. An Army color guard held the American flag behind Rockhold's helmet, rifle and boots as a bagpiper played "Amazing Grace." It was a reminder of the dangers American troops still face in Iraq.

"It makes me more scared," said Denise Jones, a friend who received Rockhold's letter Tuesday. "Because the war was supposed to be over when that boy got killed."

Jones' husband, Army Staff Sgt. William Jones, remains in Iraq. He had helped Rockhold pack his rucksack before departing for Kuwait. It was the young soldier's first deployment. Jones said when she told her husband over the telephone that Rockhold was dead he didn't want to believe her.

Sgt. Eric Duckworth served with Rockhold in B Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry. Sent home from the desert with a knee injury, Duckworth was one of the few soldiers Rockhold knew who got to attend the service.

"He was a really good soldier," said Duckworth, who recalled with regret words he'd uttered during a similar memorial last month for 34 Fort Stewart soldiers killed during the war. "I said, 'Thank God we haven't lost any of ours'" in the unit, Duckworth said. "As bad as it sounds, it's like I jinxed him."

Rockhold's wife, DaVonna, and her sister, Tracy Conley, wiped tears as the ceremony closed with the somber notes of "Taps" echoing across the open field. They declined to speak with reporters afterward.

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