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
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
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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