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Marines mourn six killed last week in Falluja

Fallen troops remembered in solemn memorial

From Producer Cal Perry in Falluja

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FALLUJA, Iraq (CNN) -- When the roll call at Camp Falluja commenced on Friday, Marine First Sgt. John Forbes shouted six names. No one answered. The 400 troops mustered at the base's chapel then mourned amid deafening, heartbreaking silence.

Poignant moments marked the memorial service honoring and remembering five Marines and a sailor killed in last week's suicide attack in Falluja, six of the 1,741 troops killed in the war in Iraq.

Three of the six were women -- Lance Cpl. Holly A. Charette, 21, of Cranston, R.I., Cpl. Ramona M. Valdez, 20, of the Bronx in New York, and Petty Officer 1st Class Regina R. Clark, 43, of Centralia, Wash.

The others were men -- Cpl. Carlos Pineda, 23, and Pfc. Veashna Muy, 20, both of Los Angeles and Cpl. Chad W. Powell, 22, of West Monroe, La.

All but Clark were Marines. But all were assigned to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.

Their comrades, shaken by the loss but emboldened by their associates' integrity, remembered them in prayer and personal reflection.

The mode of the service wouldn't be unfamiliar to Americans.

"Amazing Grace" was sung.

"Eternal Father" -- a Marine prayer -- was recited. So were the 23rd Psalm and verses from Ecclesiastes.

"Taps" was played. Commanders delivered their thoughts and paid their respects.

Those who read prayers were Navy Cmdr. Dale White and Marine Sgt. Robert J. Williams.

Marine Capt. William T. Gordon, headquarters company commander, delivered personal reflections.

Comrades delivered remarks on each victim, a most moving part of the service.

Marine Lance Cpl. Starlyn Stowers, speaking of Charette, said "her spirit will live on for people to see." Another comrade, Equipment Operator 2 Dondi Gasper, a Seabee, said of Clark, "she will always be in our hearts." Others remembered the rest, including Pineda, who was shot by a gunman while administering aid to the wounded and died in hospital the following day.

Posthumously, Muy, the private first class, was promoted to lance corporal.

During roll call, names of all the company members were called out. Those present answered. When the names of the six slain troops were called out three times for each, there were no answers.

A name was read once. No one spoke. The name was read again. No sound. The name was read for the very last time. There was no response.

The realization of their loss reverberated.

A three-person team carried the fallen troops' boots, rifle, helmet and dog tags to the front of the chapel. They stuck each rifle in the ground, placed a helmet atop it, lay the boots in front and hung the dog tags from the weapon.

Col. Mark Gurganus, regimental commander, delivered an uplifting message that amounted to this: We're here for Iraq. We're here for each other. We're here for the families of the fallen. After the service, troops hugged each other and kneeled in front of the memorials. Col. Gurganus then walked by, prayerfully touching each helmet.

Another 13 Marines, including 11 women, were wounded in the strike.

The numbers reflect the more prominent role female Marines have begun playing around Falluja, where they help guard checkpoints and search Iraqi women and children.

The one-time insurgent stronghold, an anti-U.S. hotbed in the Sunni Triangle, had been retaken in November during a massive U.S.-led offensive.

Thursday night a suicide bomber veered across a road and swerved directly into a seven-ton truck carrying female Marines back to Camp Falluja after a shift change. The truck caught fire in the explosion and flipped over. The attack happened inside the city, 400 meters from the main checkpoint in and out of Falluja.

Correspondent Jane Arraf contributed to this report

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