Saturday marked 3,705 days since Karen McKenna’s son was killed by a sniper in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
Captain John J. McKenna IV, from Brooklyn, N.Y., was serving with the First Battalion of the 25th Marine Regiment in August 2006 when he was shot in the head while helping another member of his unit who had been shot.
He was one of 11 members in the regiment killed in combat in Fallujah. Two, Corporal Paul N. King and Lance Corporal Eric P. Valdepenas, were from Massachusetts.
Nine of the 11 Gold Star families gathered in the Seaport District Saturday with veterans of the unit to honor the 10-year anniversary of the regiment’s return to the United States. They served in Iraq from March to October 2006.
“It seems like it was another lifetime ago, but it hurts like it was yesterday,” said Karen McKenna, sitting by the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Memorial after a ceremony there Saturday afternoon.
“Somebody once told me, it’s like a very sharp rock,” said McKenna, who counts each day since her son’s death. “Over time, the water might wear away some of the edges, but that rock will be there for the rest of my life.”
About 400 Marines from the battalion were expected at Saturday’s reunion, which included the memorial ceremony, a reception with veterans service health care providers, and a reunion dinner with speeches from some of the battalion’s leaders. Approximately 650 people were expected to attend overall.
Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, who commanded the Fifth Marine Regiment and is currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan, said the story of John J. McKenna IV was not unlike those of the other 10 killed from his unit. Nearly all of them died while trying to help or save someone else, Nicholson said.
“I had five battalions under my command, and this one was special,” he said. “There’s just a sense of real service here and real sacrifice from this crowd.”
Nicholson said members of the battalion had a strong bond with one another. Together, they empowered the local community in Fallujah and worked with them, he said.
“They came in, and they took all the hard jobs. They shied away from nothing,” Nicholson said. “It was just a can-do organization that understands the importance of the mission.”
Colonel Chris Landro, commanding officer of the First Battalion and a speaker at the evening reception, agreed that the members were unique, calling them the most “motivated, educated, and dedicated Marines” he had ever seen.
Landro said the reunion is a chance for Gold Star families and veterans to honor and celebrate the battalion, especially the fallen.
“We’re coming together to celebrate what we’ve achieved and what we’ve become since,” Landro said. “We’re celebrating the success we had as a military unit and in executing our mission.”
During the memorial service, Landro told the Gold Star families that despite the “political banter” about wars in the United States, their loved ones killed while fighting in Iraq were not lost “in vain.”
“The measure is not the discussion that goes on, but the measure is the enemy they fought,” he said. “Our tomorrows are here because of what they sacrificed, and it’s critical that we forever remember that.”