2 members of Maine unit killed in Iraq

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PORTLAND – Two Maine Army National Guard soldiers were killed and a third was seriously injured in an attack in Iraq on Saturday, Gov. John Baldacci said Monday.

Staff Sgt. Dale James Kelly Jr., 48, of Richmond, and Staff Sgt. David Michael Veverka, 25, a University of Maine student from Jamestown, Pa., were killed. The soldiers were members of B Company, 3rd Battalion of the 172nd Infantry regimen based in Brewer.

The third soldier, Pvt. Christopher Fraser, 19, of Windsor, was seriously injured in the attack and was transferred to medical facilities in Landstuhl, Germany, Baldacci said. He was a member of the 1136th Transportation Company and was attached to B Company.

Fraser’s injuries are not life-threatening, said Baldacci, who spoke to the injured soldier’s mother and members of the victims’ families.

Other than an attack by a suicide bomber in Mosul in December 2004, the two deaths were the worst single incident for a Maine Guard unit in Iraq. The Mosul attack killed two Maine soldiers and injured another 13 from the Maine Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion.

“These tragedies, though raw and painful, remind us of the everyday sacrifices made by the men and women who serve overseas, as well as the family members left behind,” Baldacci said.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and U.S. Reps. Tom Allen and Michael Michaud offered their sympathies.

The Department of Defense and the Maine National Guard didn’t disclose any details about the attack. The unit was deployed from Brewer in January to provide security operations in Iraq.

Kelly was an employee at Bath Iron Works, where he had worked for 14 years, and is survived by his wife and three grown children.

Veverka’s family told The Herald newspaper in Sharon, Pa., that they were awakened early Sunday by state police and an Army officer who brought them news of Veverka’s death.

“They just stood there. I said, Please tell me my baby is all right,”‘ said Carol Polley, Veverka’s mother. That is when the Army officer got down on one knee and told her that her son had been killed.

Polley said she and Veverka’s stepfather, Jeff Polley, were told that that her son died in military hospital near Baghdad a few hours after the blast that targeted his convoy.

Veverka graduated from Jamestown High School in 1998, where he was a standout basketball player. His father and stepmother, Ronald and Judi Veverka, live in Sharon. The Polleys live in West Shenango Township in Crawford County.

Veverka joined the Army to help pay for college and joined the Maine National Guard while studying for his bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology at the University of Maine in Bangor, his family said. University officials said they will pay tribute to him during Saturday’s commencement ceremony.

“He wasn’t afraid, he was excited to go,” Carol Polley said. “He said, Mom, I’m OK, everything’s cool.”‘

Ronald Veverka said he never thought about having to deal with his son’s death.

“He told us before he left that this was his calling,” Veverka said.

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