Thousands attend funeral for Marines

CLEVELAND -- On the stage sat a helmet, a pair of worn soldier's boots and a folded American flag. In the audience were thousands who turned out Monday night to honor 16 fallen Marines and their hard-hit Ohio battalion.

"Our own band of brothers," Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones said during an hour-long memorial service of prayers, bagpipes intoning "Amazing Grace" and montages of the troops from the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines who died in the past two weeks in Iraq.

"Close your eyes and listen to your sons, fathers, husbands, uncles, brothers and friends. They're talking to you. They're saying, 'Please celebrate my life. Please have no regrets,"' Tubbs Jones told the Marines' families and friends. "'We did not spend all the time we wanted, yet the time we had was well spent."'

Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla opened the service with a prayer asking God to "give rest and reward to our fallen brothers, the heroic Marines of the 3/25th."

Robert Derga, whose son Cpl. Dustin Derga, a member of the battalion, was killed in May, described the support as unbelievable.

"We're just overwhelmed," Derga said. "It's good to see the community support. It's what Dustin fought for."

Lt. Col. Kevin Rush thanked the audience in Cleveland's International Exposition Center for its support on behalf of the battalion.

"These Marines have been giving their all and sadly some of them made the ultimate sacrifice," Rush said. "While it is fitting for a moment of silence, I believe a round of applause for all of our fighting forces is a little more appropriate."

Thousands stood, clapped and cheered for several seconds before the lights went dark and the names and photos of the fallen Marines were flashed on a screen while classical music played. Many of the Marines' relatives were moved to tears.