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Iraqis Bid Farewell To Army Infantry
By Steve Liewer
Stars and Stripes
European Edition

March 13, 2004

BALAD, Iraq As a crowd of Iraqis clapped and cheered, leaders of the 4th Infantry Division unit that brought calm to this city gave a gift meant to symbolize peace and friendship.

Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman and Capt. Matt Cunningham battalion and company commanders from the 4th ID's 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment presented a statue of a dove flying above a map of Iraq. It stands atop a red-tile pedestal and fountain built by local artisans.

The officers dedicated the statue to 1,500 men, women and children from the Shiite city of 170,000 who were slaughtered by Saddam Hussein's regime after an assassination attempt against the former Iraqi dictator in Balad in 1982.

They also dedicated it to widows and victims of Saddam's torture campaign; an Iraqi police chief and six officers killed by a bomb in January; and two American soldiers Capt. Eric Paliwoda and Staff Sgt. Dale Panchot killed in the Balad area.

"This sculpture represents all the sacrifices this city has made since 1982, and their friendship during the past year," Cunningham said.

The city was rife with violence when the 1-8 Infantry arrived last June to set up Forward Operating Base Eagle (later renamed Paliwoda in honor of the slain officer).

With aggressive raids and patrols, and creation of a strong informants' network, the unit was able to capture or kill most of the insurgents.

By October, Balad was peaceful enough to hold the first free elections in Iraq.

Children waved at soldiers aboard 1-8 Infantry's four Bradley fighting vehicles as they roared down the street to the ceremony, held at a crossroads in the city center decorated with flags of red, green and black.

Several Balad dignitaries spoke, presenting Sassaman and Cunningham with bronze clocks as gifts. They thanked the Iraqis and introduced Capt. Henry Delacruz, company commander from Task Force 1-77, the 1st Infantry Division unit taking over at Paliwoda this week.

"I want these children, and my daughter, to live in a world free of terror," Cunningham said. "[Balad] is a model for the security of the whole country. I'm confident the new unit will build on our foundation."

Cunningham's father, Jim, a retired physiology professor from East Lansing, Mich., designed, built and donated the sculpture. He built it four years ago when his son was assigned to the Sinai to commemorate soldiers from the multinational peacekeeping force who had died there.

"To him, it was a way of contributing to my peacekeeping efforts," Capt. Cunningham said later. "He's really happy to participate in bridging the gap."

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This article is provided courtesy of Stars & Stripes, which got its start as a newspaper for Union troops during the Civil War, and has been published continuously since 1942 in Europe and 1945 in the Pacific. Stripes reporters have been in the field with American soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, and are now on assignment in the Middle East.

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Copyright 2004 Stars and Stripes. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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