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Lima Company Marks 10 Year Anniversary Of Columbus Homecoming From Iraq War

This weekend, two military groups mark the anniversary of Lima Company's homecoming. It's been 10 years since the reserve marine unit deployed to Iraq.  During seven months in 2005, 22 Marines and a Navy Corpsman were killed in action.  Time has muted emotions among survivors and relatives, but memories of the fallen remain razor-sharp.

"Well, you didn't expect a reserve group to lose that many people," Stephanie Derga said.

Derga said she's doing much better than she was 10 years ago. Her son, Corporal Dustin Derga was the first casualty among Lima Company marines. He was killed on Mother's Day 2005.

"That day I said, Mothers  Day's ruined for the rest of my life for the fact he wasn't going to be there.  But, the fact it was on Mother's Day made it even more painful," Derga said.

Derga said songs or joyful family events like a daughter's marriage,  the birth of a grandchild can re-ignite feelings of loss. Sara Duval lost her son,  Lance Corporal Arron Reed, in August of 2005. She credits faith in God for helping her cope during the last ten years.  And, she stopped following news from Iraq and the Middle East.

"I just couldn't do that. Because, you'd be going along in the news and have a happy little story about a bear stuck up a tree and then all of a sudden there'd be something about Lima Company or something about someone else being killed in Iraq and I just, I couldn't handle that," Duval said. 

Both Duval and Derga will attend Lima Company anniversary events.  Among those who will join them: Jim and Catherine Bernholtz, parents of Lance Corporal Eric Bernholtz, killed in action, August 3, 2005. Bernholtz volunteers with the Ohio Fallen Heroes Memorial to honor his son.  He thinks of his son every day.

"It's not always tragic, it's not always sad. Sometimes, it's a good memory and a happy moment. But, the grief is there," Bernholtz said.

Lima Company  deployed to a battle zone along the Euphrates River stretching from near Baghdad to the Syrian border. The area was largely unpatrolled until Lima Company and other units arrived.  Sixty members received Purple Hearts,  including 23 posthumously.  Thirty-four Marines and sailors were wounded in action. Corporal Mike Strahle suffered shrapnel wounds to his upper legs, stomach, chest and upper arms.

"I guess early on they weren't sure that I was going to make it.  The medical attention that I got was first class. They got me out of the woods and stabilized my condition....At this point, 10 years later you know, nerve damage in my right arm, loss of feeling in my right hand and that's about the only lingering thing," Strahle said.

For the past three years, Strahle travels with the Lima Company Memorial. He describes his current  mission as similar to the Vietnam traveling wall.  

As a platoon commander, Gunnery Sergeant Shawn Delgado lead 50 Marines into combat in Iraq. At the time, he was 35 years old and had previous combat experience.

"The thing that I used to tell all of our guys was that we're not here for the battle, what we're here for is the space between you and me because that's America.  And if you, anybody comes between us then they're stepping on American soil," Delgado said.

Delgado added it was "a little rough" immediately after the unit's return to Columbus in the fall of 2005. As the father of a nine year old son, Delgado said he's now in a better place.

"My son saved my sanity. I will tell you that for sure. Although things with him can be crazy (slight laugh) he is my rock and he's my anchor. Whenever things get hard I just have to look at him and know that I need to be with him, for him, to raise a good man," Delgado said.

On Saturday morning , as part of a re-creation of Lima Company's 2005 return from Iraq,  a police escort will lead buses filled with marines, their families, and relatives of the fallen. A private memorial service will be held at the reserve center.