Photo Information

Marines from 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, hike their way to a memorial site set up just outside of Camp Horno, April 26. The site was made in memory of Marines from 1st Marine Regiment that died in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and continues to be so for Marines from OIF II. Every Marine that hikes up the San Onofre Mountain to the memorial carries a white stone to place at the foot of the memorial. Many stones were covered with the names of the Marines that died.

Photo by Cpl. Matthew S. Richards

1/4 treks to remember fallen Marines in Iraq

3 May 2005 | Cpl. Matthew S. Richards 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

The dense, white fog crept slowly over the mountains behind Camp Horno, April 26. The soft, thick clouds sluggishly shifted and disappeared somewhere around the halfway point up as Marines from 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, cut through to the top of San Onofre Mountain with a direct purpose. They hiked with a load, large and small. Every Marine carried a white stone to place at the foot of a large, wooden cross just past a sharp incline near the mountain’s peak. The stones were in remembrance of those lost from 1st Marine Regiment since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, including those who died in 1/4’s recent deployment with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. It’s now tradition for every Marine who visits the memorial to place a white stone at the base, and they’re overflowing into the surrounding grass and peppered with black lettering of Marines’ names. “It helps us always remember the members of 1/4 who paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said Lt. Col. Barton S. Sloat, battalion commander, 1/4. “And it helps us rededicate ourselves to making the most of our lives.”As the Marines filed off to the cross to place their remembrance down, some quietly paused with somber faces and pressed their foreheads to one of the larger stones. “It was great symbolism to remember what some sacrificed,” said Lance Cpl. Brian Sandford, rifleman, 1st Platoon, Company C, 1/4. Ten minutes earlier the Marines were joking and prompting each other up the final steep climb of San Onofre Mountain. At the memorial, they were solemn and respectful. “It was very inspirational when we got up there and started talking about all the memories of the Marines who passed away,” said Lance Cpl. Miguel Madrid, another rifleman with 1st Platoon.Some Marines carried small rocks purely for the representation, but there were others that chose to carry a load to ease their figurative one. Staff Sgt. Simon Sandoval, platoon sergeant, 1st Platoon, Company A, 1/4, lost two Marines during the last deployment. He was one who helped carry a 60 pound “boulder” to the top. “It was emotional to me getting it to the top,” Sandoval said. “The pain going up was a little price to pay, but that’s nothing compared to the ultimate price they paid.”Sandoval leaned forward and barreled up the mountain with encouraging cheers and helpful pushes as he and a couple other Marines passed the rock back and forth through the four-mile trek. Four miles wouldn’t be much, but many found the climb straight up San Onofre Mountain challenging. “You reap what you sow,” Sloat said. “If it was easy it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to go.”The battalion is planning to intensify the tradition. In the future, different squads will climb up the mountain to pay their tribute once a week. But that still doesn’t seem like enough to some Marines.“I definitely think more things like that should be around,” said Sgt. Phillip Ledesma, squad leader, 1st Platoon, Co. C. Afterward, the battalion trekked down the mountain laughing and singing cadence to the honor of the Marines' memories.

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