Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Marines showing some respect for our British allies.

For a day, U.S. Marines traded their rifles for rakes — to care for the final resting places of British soldiers who fought and died in another campaign, more than 80 years ago.

The graves of World War I soldiers at Kut War Cemetery were overgrown with tall weeds. No one has cared for them since before the 1991 Gulf War when Britain closed its embassy in Iraq.

After U.S. Marines were told of the cemetery by British journalists, more than enough volunteers stepped forward Monday to help pull the weeds and gather trash.

“It’s the best way to show support to our British allies and friends, and their support means a lot to us,” said Navy Yeoman 2nd Class Daniel White of West Valley City, Utah, one of the Construction Battalion engineers who helped clear the plots.

Children had been using the cemetery’s open field to play soccer, while other residents dumped their garbage there. Nearby is the city’s main market, where open sewers run in narrow canals between stalls selling Syrian chocolate, Iraqi-made cigarettes and live chickens.

The sign marking the cemetery was covered with graffiti, and an iron cross that once adorned the obelisk in the middle of the grounds was removed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. Its whereabouts are unknown.

Broken gravestones litter the grounds; some near the entrance have been stacked together to form a makeshift bench. The tombstone of Lance Cpl. H.J. Gentry, of the Middlesex Regiment, lies amid a sloping mountain of trash that residents had thrown into the cemetery from a nearby alley. He died Oct. 13, 1918.

Other gravestones are inscribed in Sanskrit, tribute to the Indian troops who fought alongside the British in the Mesopotamian campaign.

On Monday, Marine Capt. Peter Charboneau was marking the names and locations of gravestones on a makeshift map. Local Iraqis, some wearing the Marines’ chemical weapons gloves as gardening gloves, were helping out for $2 apiece.

“We would like this to be a place of rest,” said Charboneau, of Ticonderoga, N.Y., a controller with Marine Air Support Squadron 1. He assured residents that U.S. forces would find another place for the children to play soccer.

Hussein Kadem Zambul, a math teacher who lives across the street, said the vandalism and neglect were not indicators of any anti-Christian sentiment.

“Islam is not against Christianity. We have one God,” he said.

He said the town’s impoverished people had taken some stone and other materials from the cemetery out of dire need under Saddam’s harsh rule.

“How do you expect the government to care for graves when it treated the people like animals?” he asked.

< email | 4/23/2003 03:37:00 PM | link

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