Chicago veterans, loved ones mark end of war in Iraq

December 15, 2011 (CHICAGO)

During the Thursday ceremony in Baghdad, troops lowered the U.S. Forces-Iraq flag and wrapped it in camouflage in an Army tradition called "casing."

"To be sure the cost was high -- in blood and treasure of the United States and also the Iraqi people," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the roughly 200 troops and others in attendance. "Those lives have not been lost in vain. They gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq."

All U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year. But many will come home without comrades; 4,487 American troops were killed in the war and 32,000 were wounded. The war has cost more than $800 billion.

As the war comes to an end, Chicagoans whose lives were forever changed by it spoke of honor, sacrifice and lessons learned.

Loretta Capeheart's nephew died in Iraq and she said, "It's certainly not over for the Iraqi people. It's not over for my family. It's not over for the families of the 4500 soldiers who were lost."

Capeheart visited a memorial at Northeastern Illinois University where thousands of dog tags honor those killed in Iraq. One of those tags is for Capeheart's nephew, who died six years ago.

"Anytime you lose a young person, it's devastating because of the potential. He has a fiancé, who as far as I know still considers herself his fiancé, although it's been many years now," Capeheart said.

"I'm glad they're coming out, and I really hope we don't rush into anything too soon," Jim Smiley, who served two tours in Iraq, said.

Though Smiley believes it was a just war, he and fellow Marine Ryan Hulett are left with mixed emotions.

"There was a lot of anger, a lot of seeking revenge, and I don't think that those are the right motivations to do anything," Hulett said.

The war effort relied heavily on National Guard troops, many of whom gave up full-time jobs back home to serve a year or more in Iraq. Now, in the midst of the great recession, the unemployment rate among veterans is disproportionately high. Smiley and Hulett are enrolled at St. Xavier University.

"It's hard for employers to understand where veterans are coming from. It's hard for veterans to understand where civilian employers are coming from," Hulett said.

Though many people said politics should be avoided on Thursday as the U.S. marks the end of the war, some recalled the seeds of dissent that were planted in Chicago. In October 2002, thousands of people gathered in Federal Plaza where then-state Senator Barack Obama spoke out against the war...

"We need to take a moment to mourn and also be much more prudent when we talk about using the term "we're going to war" loosely," Marilyn Katz, anti-war rally organizer, said.

The organizers of the 2002 rally are planning another gathering Friday.

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