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Fall River remembers its fallen

From Sally Garner, CNN
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The tragedy of war in Fall River
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 4 soldiers from Fall River have died this year while on active duty, officials say
  • Military mother: "Enough's enough and it's time for this to come to an end"
  • Obama Thursday said the U.S. is making significant progress in the 9-year war in Afghanistan
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Fall River, Massachusetts (CNN) -- In a coastal city south of Boston, a community often known for its veterans is grappling with the loss of four young men who died this year while on active military duty.

Army Sgt. Robert Barrett and Army Spec. Scott Andrews were both 21 years old when they were killed in Afghanistan, according to the city's official veterans agent, Manuel DaPonte.

Marine Cpl. Paul Fagundes, 29, died in a swimming accident earlier this year near the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

And the city's latest casualty, Army Spec. Ethan Goncalo, succumbed to injuries suffered in Afghanistan last week, just days before his scheduled return home, DaPonte said.

He was also 21 years old.

"The city of Fall River has never ended its grieving process with this being the fourth military funeral this year," Fall River mayor William Flanagan told CNN affiliate WHDH. "Especially given this news around the holiday season."

Specialists Barrett and Andrews died within two months of each other.

Like many grieving families across the country, their mothers at times question the war that has claimed both their sons' lives.

"I know that our sons did not die in vain. Ours sons fought for freedom," said Andrews' mother, Jo Ann Mello. "They believed in what they were doing. But I'm not so sure that I believe."

Mello's comments came as America's top military official announced that the U.S. review of strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan "shows us that we are on the right track," offering a personal glimpse into the homeland costs of a near-decade long conflict often fought in the harsh terrain of a country accustomed to war.

"I think we're tired," said Barrett's mother, Carlene. "Enough's enough, and it's time for this to come to an end."

Her son died from a suicide attack just south of Kabul International Airport earlier this year, according to icasualties.org, which notes military deaths.

"They say we're fighting a war. We're not fighting a war," she said. "My son wasn't fighting when he got killed. He was leaning against a truck and a suicide bomber got in on the base."

Scott Andrews died from a bombing near Forward Operating Base Lagman, considered a key outpost for U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan.

"It's not always someone else's son," Mello said. "It's ours."

Her kitchen refrigerator is covered with photographs of the two men, recalling parades the city organized in efforts to honor the fallen soldiers.

"Remember that there are parents, families, mothers and fathers that are hurting individually," DaPonte said. "The rest of the country need not forget, please don't forget that we're at war."

On Thursday, President Obama said the United States is making significant progress in the nine-year war in Afghanistan, but warned that the conflict "continues to be a very difficult endeavor."

Obama said the U.S. is "on track to achieve our goals" of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda and eroding "its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future," he said. The gains, however, are fragile.

The president noted, among other things, that there has been a "successful increase" in the recruitment and training of Afghan forces due partly to the July 2011 deadline set by the administration to start withdrawing the U.S. military.