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David Raymond holds a photo of his four children from around 1996. Clockwise from lower left are Pierre, Alfio, Barbara and Joseph. Pierre was killed while serving in Iraq.

Celeste Vicente fears her son and all the other Americans who died fighting in Iraq are fading from the public’s memory.

The United States and other coalition forces invaded Iraq five years ago today. Vicente’s son, Marine Cpl. David Vicente, 25, died four years ago today, after his Humvee hit a land mine his second week in the war-torn country.

“The close friends and family always remember my son,” the Methuen mother said. “The American people, I think they’re starting to forget not only about my son, but about all the people that lost their life — all the men and women.

“They say just, ‘Oh well, that’s the way it is,’ and that really bothers me,” she said.

As war has raged on, media coverage has waned, Celeste Vicente and other observers said.

“People forget, you know, sometimes they think Britney Spears is a lot more important than the war,” she said. “We’re losing thousands of people and billions of dollars. This country, what are the priorities?”

As of Monday, at least 3,990 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the war, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes eight civilians. Some estimates say the war in Iraq is costing the U.S. Treasury $12 billion a month and $500 billion all together. That is about $1,646 for every person living in the United States.

Experts say not to expect the war to end anytime soon.

“I don’t see us ever leaving,” said former Merrimack College professor Joshua Spero, who spent nearly 15 years as a strategic and scenario planner and policymaker at the Pentagon. “I’ll just qualify that by saying we have military bases there — 60 plus military bases and I don’t see us giving them up unless the Iraqis negotiate with us to say that those are Iraqi military bases.”

The United States could, however, withdraw to other parts of the Middle East to be nearby if is needed in Iraq. He said the military has had a presence in Kuwait since the 1990s.

“I see our commitment being very, very long-term,” he said. “But that commitment can take on many shapes and dimensions.”

Army Sgt. Pierre Raymond, 28, a Lawrence native, died of injuries suffered in a attack on his base camp in Ramadi, Iraq, on Sept. 15, 2005. His father, Londonderry, N.H., resident David Raymond, 67, still cries when he thinks of the tragedy.

“Every time the phone rings I think it’s him,” David Raymond said. “I can be sleeping in my bed and I know he’s right next to me. It’s kind of crazy. I could be in, like, a deep sleep and I’m like ‘Pierre, Pierre, where do you want to go?’ And I realize he passed away.”

He remembers his son as a friendly, comical guy who dyed his hair red and blue and would “do anything for you.” Pierre Raymond’s co-workers from a restaurant in Pennsylvania made the trip north to his funeral in Lawrence.

“It’s (the war) the same thing as Vietnam,” the father said. “We never should have gone into Vietnam. The president puts his money in the Cayman Islands and his daughters don’t go in the service. I think all presidents’ kids should go in the military.”

The signature wound of the war is traumatic brain injury, which is caused by insurgents’ roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices, local veterans agents said.

“It could lead up to different mood swings and issues where people act irrationally and do things they wouldn’t normally do,” said Haverhill Veterans Agent Michael Ingham.

Other common problems are post-traumatic stress disorder and hearing loss, plus overlooked problems like back and knee injuries.

“Guys are jumping off of heavy trucks with flak vests,” Ingham said. “Anybody who has a back injury knows that’s really going to change a lot of things.”

The war has had a more subtle impact on some in the Merrimack Valley.

Methuen grandmother Sandra Bouchard put a candle in her window five years ago and vowed to leave it there for the duration of the war.

She removed it when President Bush delivered his speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, saying major combat operations in Iraq were finished. A sign declaring “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” served as the president’s backdrop.

“Unfortunately, I went and believed the war was over,” Bouchard said this week of why she removed the candle. “Shame on me.”

She put the candle in her window to show her support for the troops.

Bouchard can’t help but compare this war to Vietnam, and she is disappointed that lives are being lost.

“It’s just, there’s too many of our men being killed,” she said.

William Woodburn of Haverhill said that five years ago he would hang his American flag in the front door of his home on holidays. But when the war started, he began hanging the flag every day to show his support for the troops.

Five years later, he’s still hanging his flag. The 79-year-old Korean War veteran said he still “absolutely” supports the war.

“While the troops are over there, I will hang the flag,” he said.

Five years ago Woodburn said he and his wife went “along with what the president says” about getting into the war. Today, without hesitation, Woodburn said he “absolutely” still supports it.

“Well, it’s either there or here, and we already suffered that once,” he said.

Frank Dunlevy teaches a current events class at Lawrence High School. The students got into heated debate over the war five years ago, when the story was front page news more often than not.

These days, it’s a different story.

“Unless we mention it as teachers, a lot of people don’t think there’s a war still going on,” Dunlevy said. “It just seems that the news articles aren’t there, whether because it’s things are going better or there are other issues in the U.S., it just doesn’t seem to be at the forefront anymore.”

Dunlevy himself has changed his opinion since the war began. He supported the war at the outset, but now he is “dead set against it.” He said it was started on “a pack of lies,” including the assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which were never found.

“Five years ago, we didn’t have all the information we have now,” he said.

But the teacher rejects the notion that the United States should withdraw, saying the troop surge has made progress and American deaths are down.

“If I had a son over there, my views would probably be different,” he said. “I just can’t see with the effort that we put into this, that we just pack up the combat troops and go home.”





Lives lost

Local military personnel killed in support of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan:

r Army Spc. Mathew Boule, 22, of Dracut. His Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a firefight April 2, 2003.

r Army Pfc. Evan O’Neill, 19, of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, died in battle Sept. 29, 2003, in Shkin, Afghanistan. He lived in North Andover for the first four years of his life and then moved to Haverhill.

r Marine Cpl. David Vicente, 25, of Methuen was killed March 19, 2004, when the vehicle he was in was hit with an explosive device.

r Marine Lance Cpl. Dimitrios Gavriel, 29, was killed Nov. 19, 2004, outside Fallujah. He grew up in Haverhill and Atkinson, N.H., and graduated from Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, N.H.

r Army Sgt. Pierre Raymond, 28, of Lawrence died on Sept. 20, 2005, in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany, after suffering a fatal wound during an attack on Sept. 15, in Iraq.

r Marine Lance Cpl. Nickolas Schiavoni, 26, of Haverhill was killed in a suicide bombing on Nov. 15, 2005.

r Army Spc. Christine Ndururi, 21, of Dracut died Nov. 6, 2007, at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, of a non-combat-related illness.



Help for veterans

Haverhill Veterans Services Director Michael Ingham urged returning veterans not to wait to get care for injuries they suffered.

He is still dealing with World War II veterans who were injured on the battlefield, and said the longer you wait to get treatment, the harder it is to prove to the government that your injury was a result of your service.

“If you got something, take care of it now and file a claim now,” Ingham said. “Don’t wait like most guys.”

Methuen Veterans Services Director Thomas Hargreaves said anyone who knows someone returning from war should get their contact information to Veterans Services, so officials there can help them.

The Massachusetts Bar Association is dedicating a session of its monthly Dial-A-Lawyer program to veterans’ legal questions.

Veterans can call 617-338-0610 between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. on April 9 for free answers to legal questions.

Callers who get a busy signal are asked to hang up and try again. Normal telephone charges will apply.

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