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July 4th celebrations delayed for troops stationed in Iraq

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq—No one here wants fireworks this July 4th. They've heard plenty.

"It sounded like 1,000 firecrackers going off in a can," said Seabee Jonathan Garrison, 29, describing a recent firefight between Marines and insurgents near Fallujah. "We weren't sure whether it was outgoing or incoming," added Garrison, an Equipment Operator First Class in Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 from Gulfport, Miss.

The noise of battle has lessened over the past 10 days, but U.S. troops wonder whether insurgents will choose America's Independence Day to launch an attack.

July 4th will be much like any other Sunday in Camp Fallujah. Most troops have duties.

"I'll celebrate when I get home," said Staff Sgt. Clinton Plaster of Washington state.

Plaster's wife promised to put aside fireworks for the family to ignite when he returns. His 10-year-old daughter loves fireworks.

This Fourth of July comes within a week of Iraqi's very first independence day. Whether that day becomes one for Iraqis to celebrate is far from certain.

"It is to be determined," said Plaster, who like many U.S. troops feels the Iraqis should take more responsibility to quell fighting in their country.

"We've given it to them," he said.

For some troops, July 4th will be a happy time, even though the barbecue, parades and huge fireworks displays will be missing.

"I'd take a few fireworks," said Daniel Heyse, 41, from Gulfport. "I'm just going to rest and give my family a call and visit with friend here on the base," he said.

He will have a half-day off to sleep late.

Heyse plans to enjoy the day vicariously through his wife, Sherry and daughter, Laura, who will enjoy a traditional celebration with food, fireworks and friends.

"My wife said the big celebrations will be when I get home," said Heyse.

While he won't see any bunting, sparklers or roman candles, he still feels patriotic out in the hot, dusty desert.

"At least I know I'm doing something for a reason," Heyse said.

For Construction Electrician Third Class Brian Neilson, 20, of Culver City, Calif., this holiday will be a time to remember what's important to him as an American.

"I plan to call my family and tell them that I love them," said Neilson. "They don't know whether we're going to see tomorrow."

Anti-war sentiment in the U.S. clouds his celebration of July 4th. Neilson said he is happy to help the Iraqis have their own independence day.

"I know we're out here doing a good thing," he said. "A lot of people back in the states don't appreciate it, but these people need a lot of help."


(Peterson reports for The Sun Herald of Biloxi, Miss.)


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.