Families of fallen troops divided on admission of mistakes in Iraq

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) It’s been 10 months since a roadside bomb in Iraq killed Cathy Brunson’s son and three fellow Georgia National Guardsmen – not long enough to heal, she says, and too late to take much comfort in President Bush’s admission he’s made mistakes in conducting the war.

“No matter what is said or done now, it’s not going to bring back the 2,000-plus soldiers that were killed,” Brunson of Sylvester, Ga., said Friday, a day after Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered sobering acknowledgments of missteps in their handling of Iraq.

Her son, 30-year-old Spc. Jacques “Gus” Brunson, a former prison guard, was among 11 Georgia citizen-soldiers killed over 11 days when the National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade deployed to Iraq last year.

“For the families who have lost their sons, brothers, husbands, it is kind of late now to acknowledge that ‘OK, we did make mistakes,”‘ said Brunson, who keeps a photo of her son on her desk at the tax assessor’s office in south Georgia’s rural Worth County.

The admissions by Bush and Blair drew strong, and divided, responses from families of soldiers killed in Iraq. More than 2,460 U.S. service members have died in the war since it began in March 2003.

Blair, calling the violence in Iraq “ghastly,” acknowledged underestimating the insurgency’s determination. Bush said he regretted some of his “tough talk” – such as saying Osama bin Laden was wanted “dead or alive” and challenging America’s enemies to “bring it on.”

Some family members criticized Bush for owning up to mistakes only after his poll numbers and public support for the war have reached all-time lows. Others said they forgave the president and continue to support the goal of establishing a stable Iraqi democracy.

Eddie Mae Owens of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., lost her nephew, Sgt. 1st Class Brett Eugene Walden, 40, last August in Iraq when a civilian fuel truck crashed into his Army vehicle. She says she still backs Bush’s tough stance.

“I would rather have a president that’s tough than trying to placate our enemy,” Owens said. “You can always do Monday morning quarterbacking. You can always say you would have done things different if you knew what the outcome would have been.”

Arnold Tyrrell, a machine operator in Polo, Ill., said Bush and his allies “are doing the best they can, for better or for worse.” Tyrrell’s 21-year-old son, Army Pvt. Scott Matthew Tyrrell, died in November 2003 from burns he suffered in Iraq.

“I feel the administration did the best they could with what information they had and they acted on it,” Tyrrell said. “They’re saying, ‘OK, so we’re not perfect.’ You’ve got to jump sometimes and look back later.”

John Adams of La Mesa, Calif., isn’t as forgiving. His 27-year-old son, Navy Lt. Thomas Mullen Adams, was killed in the war’s opening days when two Navy helicopters collided.

“There has been a horrific mismanagement of the whole operation” in Iraq, Adams said. “It might be a small step for someone who has demonstrated extreme arrogance to acknowledge there were miscues.”

He added: “It’s sort of like trying to unring a bell. It can’t really be done.”

John Prazynski of Fairfield, Ohio, refuses to judge Bush a year after his son, 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Taylor Prazynski, died from shrapnel flung by an exploding mortar shell.

Prazynski has stayed active in support-the-troops efforts since his son’s death. He joined Bush and two wounded soldiers on opening day of the Cincinnati Reds’ baseball season for pregame ceremonies last month.

“I’m certainly not going to pass judgment,” Prazynski said. “If you say, ‘Oh, gosh, now it’s hard, let’s quit,’ that would make us losers.”

Celeste Zappala of Philadelphia has become a peace activist since her 30-year-old son, Army Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was killed by an explosion in Baghdad while deployed with the Pennsylvania National Guard.

She said she was pleased to hear Bush sounding “somewhat contrite.”

“But I can’t help but remember all the arrogance that has come before this day,” said Zappala, who attended another soldier’s funeral this week at Arlington National Cemetery. “I’m still really appalled that (Donald) Rumsfeld is still the secretary of defense. How many mistakes do you have to make before you step aside?”

The Rev. Marc Unger of Exeter Baptist Church in Exeter, Calif., mourned the second anniversary Thursday of the rocket attack that killed his son, 19-year-old Army Spec. Daniel Unger. They had been exceptionally close, playing together on the church band, ministering to inmates at the local juvenile hall, and even practicing karate – both were black belts.

Despite his grief, Unger remains as supportive of the war, and of the president, as his son was when he died.

“Bush is a good president, a good man trying to do the right thing,” Unger said. “He really cares. He has our absolute support.”

Carol McKeever of Buffalo, N.Y., supported the war early on, but now she says Bush made a huge error by not pulling out of Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s capture. It’s a mistake, she says, that cost her 25-year-old son his life. Army Sgt. David McKeever was weeks away from returning to his wife and baby son when he was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Baghdad.

“If he (Bush) acknowledged that he made mistakes, well then that’s a good thing. Better late than never, as long as they learn from it,” McKeever said. “I mean, everybody makes mistakes but these are costly ones. These are really costly ones.”


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