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Mother mourns `grim milestone' in longest US war

Saturday - 10/6/2012, 3:06pm  ET

By ALLEN G. BREED
AP National Writer

(AP) - Lisa Freeman was cradling her 6-day-old grandson in her left arm and watching the news on her iPad while her daughter and son-in-law caught some much-needed sleep. The retired teacher was taking notes with her free hand when she heard the news: The nation had suffered its 2,000th casualty in the Afghan war.

On Sept. 29, Army Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Metcalfe was on patrol in the country's rugged Wardak Province when his unit came under small-arms fire.

As the announcer droned on, all Freeman could do was shake her head and stare at little Matthew _ named for an uncle he would never know. Marine Capt. Matthew C. Freeman fell to a sniper's bullet on Aug. 7, 2009, northeast of Kabul, not far from where Metcalfe perished.

It is almost certain that Metcalfe and Freeman _ both 29 when they died _ never met. Freeman grew up in the Savannah suburb of Richmond Hill, Ga.; Metcalfe was from the village of Liverpool, N.Y., population about 2,400, a few miles north of Syracuse.

Nonetheless, they were brothers, casualties in what has become America's longest war.

Looking at the number 2,000 on the small, glass screen, Lisa Freeman felt as if she'd lost her son all over again.

"I just sat here, reliving the pain and wondering: Where is America's outrage? Where is America's concern that we're still at war?"

"I walk around this country and look in faces that don't even know we're at war anymore. People that are going about their everyday lives, not realizing that they've been kept safe by this amazing group of young men and women who have been willing to sacrifice so much."

She has reason to be bitter. And yet, her son's story is a shining example of how each life _ and death _ touches so many others. She and all who loved him are bound to others in a spreading web of loss and grief, and they do not mourn alone.

___

Matthew Freeman excelled at everything he set his mind to. Eagle Scout, honor roll, student council president. So no one was surprised when he won an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, following in his father's footsteps. After graduation in 2002, the son and grandson of naval aviators took his commission in the Marine Corps and went for jets.

Freeman was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, in the summer of 2009 when a resurgent Taliban began retaking areas once thought pacified. When officers asked for volunteers to shore up the thin lines, the young pilot with the striking blue eyes stepped forward.

In July 2009, Freeman made a secret trip home to marry his high school sweetheart, Theresa Hess. He wanted to make sure she would be notified _ and taken care of _ should anything happen to him.

They were married on July 10, 2009. Thirteen days later, he shipped out.

Barely two weeks into his deployment, Freeman and a fire support team set out for reconnaissance in the Shpee Valley when they came under almost immediate enemy attack and became pinned down. According to an official account, Freeman fought his way into a nearby building and up to the roof to get a better angle on the enemy position.

Once atop, he spotted an insurgent with a rocket-propelled grenade and was firing at the man when he was shot in the back of the head. A comrade told Lisa Freeman her son was found with his finger on the trigger of his rifle; its magazine was nearly empty.

The following January, Mrs. Freeman was visiting the Pennsylvania home of a woman whose son, an Army second lieutenant, had been killed in 2006 by an improvised explosive device in Iraq. On the wall, she noticed an amazingly lifelike pencil sketch of the fallen soldier and asked the woman who drew it.

___

Retired Marine Cpl. Michael Reagan knows something about long, unpopular wars.

When asked about his tour in Vietnam, he says simply, "I survived Con Thien." Translated as "Hill of Angels," the remote Marine fire base just south of the North Vietnamese border was the site of fierce fighting for a year beginning February 1967.

While there, Reagan sketched many of his buddies _ some of whom didn't make it home alive.

The Edmonds, Wash., man has since done portraits of dozens of celebrities, 137 Playboy playmates, six presidents, three prime ministers, even a pope. Using pre-autographed picture boards, he's helped raise millions for children's charities and cancer research.

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