WASHINGTON – A Marine from Port Deposit was killed Sunday in fighting Al Anbar province, the fourth soldier from Maryland to die in Iraq in as many days.
The announcement Tuesday of Cpl. Dale A. Burger Jr.’s death brought the Maryland death toll in Iraq to 18 since the war began.
The other recent casualties were Marine Cpl. Nicholas L. Ziolkowski of Towson and Marine Lance Cpl. David M. Branning of Cockeysville, who both died in the assault on Fallujah, and Army Spc. Thomas K. Doerflinger of Silver Spring, who was killed in Mosul.
The news left friends and family mourning and sharing memories of the four young men, all of whom were in their early 20s.
Burger, 21, was a much-decorated rifleman with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force. He joined the Marines in 2001 and was on his second deployment in Iraq.
He graduated from Perryville High School, said Cecil County schools spokeswoman Karen Emery.
“We’re very saddened by the news of any man or woman who gives their life in the line of duty, and it hits particularly hard when it’s one of our own,” Emery said.
When word went out that Ziolkowski had been killed in combat, his friends from his years at Boys’ Latin School in Baltimore started calling and dropping by the school.
“We are all touched,” said Laurie Heubeck, the school’s public relations director. “We are a small, tight community. It has hit us very hard.”
Ziolkowski, 22, was the son of Tracy Miller of Towson and Andrew Ziolkowski of Germantown. In a written statement, his mother described him as “charismatic, sensitive and caring.”
Heubeck said one of Ziolkowski’s best friends at Boys’ Latin was Muslim.
“I want people to know that Nick did this because he honestly believed he could make a difference for people,” she said, “not out of hatred for the Iraqi people.”
She recalled that he had wanted to be a Marine since ninth grade. By his senior year, she said, “anyone driving within a 10-mile radius of the school would have seen him. He ran every day to prepare himself for the physical rigors; he wanted to be the best Marine.”
Ziolkowski, who was killed Sunday, served with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, 11 Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Lt. Kate VandenBossche, a Camp Lejeune spokeswoman, said the details of his death cannot be released, but he is being recommended for the Purple Heart.
His family has announced that he will be buried Nov. 24 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Unlike Ziolkowski, Branning’s decision to enlist was “a left turn,” said his cousin, David L. Branning of Annapolis. “He must have wanted to challenge himself; he was artsy and into cooking.”
Branning, 21, who was killed Friday, was the son of Daniel C. Branning of Albuquerque, N.M. His mother died of cancer during the early 1990s, his cousin said. He said a memorial service is being planned for Dec. 4.
A 2001 graduate of Dulaney High School in Timonium, Branning was known as something of a pacifist, but not passive, said Kerry Williams, his junior-year English teacher.
“He would know his opinion and it would be expressed in a calm but assertive manner,” she said. She also recalled the drawings — sometimes funny, sometimes thought-provoking — that he sketched on his English assignments.
His other talent was cooking, developed with a part-time job at the upscale Oregon Grille in Hunt Valley during his high school years. He started as a dishwasher and ended up as a line chef, said Maura McKee, the restaurant’s pastry chef.
She described Branning as a “good kid” and a “good cook.”
“He worked the grill and saute station, and on a Saturday night, that’s not easy,” McKee said.
Before going to Iraq, Branning was stationed in Hawaii with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force. He sent postcards to his former coworkers at the Oregon Grille, McKee recalled.
“He wanted to see the world and better himself,” she said, but “he didn’t finish the journey he set out to do.”
Doerflinger, 20, also joined the armed forces with a goal, said Tom Tobin, who was his English teacher and mentor at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring. Doerflinger could never get his school papers in on time and joined the Army to “develop self-discipline,” Tobin said.
“He wanted to conquer his sluggishness, and he really thought the service would help him with this,” Tobin said.
Doerflinger was also a member of the Catholic Students Club, Tobin said, who “faithfully” visited seniors at Providence Hospital.
Doerflinger served with the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division — known as the Stryker Brigade Combat Team — based at Fort Lewis, Wash. He had been in Iraq less than a month when he was killed Thursday.
Doerflinger is the second of four children of Richard and Lee Ann Doerflinger of Silver Spring. The family is mourning in private, according to published reports, and has yet to announce funeral arrangements.
In a statement released to the press, Doer flinger’s parents described their son as “a smart, dedicated, wonderful young man who volunteered for the Army to serve his country and protect innocent people.”
— CNS reporter Chris Kotterman contributed to this story.
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