FORT WORTH — Of the 81 young lives North Texas gave to the Iraq war, the first was 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Marty Medellin of Fort Worth.
Medellin died on April 7, 2003 — just 18 days after the start of combat operations.
"He was deployed so quickly, I didn't have a chance to say goodbye," said his mother, Mary Medellin.
She said the official end of America's combat mission in Iraq comes as bittersweet news.
"It saddens me that my son didn't make it home, but I'm happy for those whose loved ones are coming home," Medellin said.
The Marine's mom said she wept at the sight of funeral after funeral that followed her son's. At first, Mary Medellin felt only numbness, pain and pride.
But as the years passed, anger crept in, too.
"I'm angry because they didn't find weapons of mass destruction like they said; that's what angers me about the whole war," Medellin said.
The dog tags of the American dead in Iraq and Afghanistan make up a memorial at Tarrant County College Northwest Campus. When they started the wall in 2004, they didn't know it would eventually expand to take up so much room. They hope they don't have to go much further.
There will be at least 4,416 tags from Iraq on the memorial wall. As U.S. combat forces withdraw, they'll leave behind a special forces base named for Fort Worth Green Beret Kelly Hornbeck, and a clinic named for C.J. West, an Army medic from Arlington.
West's mom was expecting him home any day when soldiers brought news of his death.
Jeremy Allmon was 22, and just 28 days from going home to Cleburne. After he was buried, his girlfriend received the roses he had bought her for Valentine's Day.
Marty Medellin's mom doesn't know if her son's death will ultimately serve Iraq's future. In a way, she says, it doesn't matter, because he died serving his country.
"They were called to do a service, and he did his service well," she said.