Lance Cpl Brian Rory Buesing, killed in an ambush in the Iraqi desert, was buried in a north Florida fishing village as his Marine unit marched on downtown Baghdad half a world away.
On a sandy knoll in a pine tree-shaded cemetery in the historic village of Cedar Key, Fla., the 20-year-old Leatherneck was laid to rest. Shortly before noon, a Marine Corps burial detail in full dress uniform slowly lifted his steel-gray, flag-draped casket from an Army drab caisson drawn by two dark-brown horses and marched two-by-two in hesitation step to the waiting grave a few feet away.
The young Marine’s family sat grieving under a green canvas canopy in three rows of folding chairs while hundreds of townspeople, friends and members of the media jockeyed for position.
It was a perfect Florida Spring day—blue skies and puffy white rain clouds in the distance.
It was sunny and hot in the desert outside An Nasiriyah in the southeastern part of Iraq March 23 when Brian and seven other Marines from the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade tried to rescue two buddies whose Humvee was hit by a rocket propelled grenade.
“Brian and the other Marines jumped off their armored vehicle and ran toward the two Marines under attack in a Humvee in front of them,” William Buesing, Jr., Brian’s father, explained the story recounted to him by the military. “As they approached the vehicle there were 150 to 200 ‘civilians’ surrendering 50 yards away.
“When they got closer to the Humvee, they saw the Iraqis waving a white flag. Then the ‘civilians’ dropped their surrender flag and shot all 10 Marines with AK-47 assault rifles hidden under their clothes.”
As long as anyone can remember, Brain wanted to be a Marine like his father and grandfather before him.
William Jr., his father, served in 1972 as a radio operator with the 2nd Marine Division in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. His grandfather, William Sr., was a 1st Marine Division mortar man, like Brian, in Korea. He took part in the historic Chosin Reservoir fight and received the Silver Star for diving on an enemy mortar round that didn’t explode.
“Brian decided early on he wanted to join the Marines. He was very focused on that,” said Sue Ice, assistant principal of Cedar Key School, where Brian graduated in 2000. “He signed up during his senior year and joined the summer after he graduated.”
“What I remember most about Brian was that he was very pleasant. He always had a smile on his face,” she said. Ice was his math teacher during his last three years of high school.
Years before Brian was a U.S. Marine serving his country in Iraq, he was a 97-pound varsity wrestler on the 1996-97 Charlotte High School State Championship Wrestling Team.
Bill Hoke, his coach, recalled Brian as “a class act. He was an honor student who was active in ROTC. He was a ‘yes sir; no sir’ type kid. Cream of the crop. He was the type of kid who makes coaching a lot of fun.”
“Coach Hoke was a tremendous influence on my son’s life,” the senior Buesing said. “Brian became a man when he met the coach.”
Brian and his dad spent the 1996-97 school year in Punta Gorda. Then Brian moved to north Florida to live with his mother, Peggy Steve, who had remarried. Brian and his older brother, Bill, his younger brother, Casey, and their half-sister, Ariele, all lived with their stepfather, Roger Steve, in Cedar Key. Brain completed his last three years of high school as an honor student.
At Charlotte High, Brian and the rest of his Tarpons 1996-97 champion wrestling team are captured in a 4-foot by 8-foot color photograph on the gym wall. The 33 boys are pictured in their blue and gold warm-up suits with “Charlotte” emblazoned in big gold letters across the front of their jackets.
Brian is seated on the wooden gym floor, fifth from the left in the front row. The skinny blond freshman had to be the smallest member of the championship team.
“We’re gonna make a nice plaque with pictures of Brian in this wrestling uniform and his Marine uniform and present it to his mother and father during next year’s wrestling season,” Hoke said. “A duplicate plaque will be placed on the wall of the gym underneath the picture of Brian and the other boys who won the state championship.”
Recalling his son, William said, “Brian told me he was going over to Iraq to get some answers for me. He was a kid who thought everyone should get along. He didn’t understand why the people in Iraq were having problems, but he was going over there to help ‘em out.
“I knew Brian and the way he was. He wasn’t about to sit back and let things happen to anybody. He was the kind of kid who cared. He just wanted to do whatever he had to do to help out. Brian would make sure no one was being hurt. He was fearless.”
Cedar Key School provided a public education for the 200 students living in the historic village that dates back to the 1840s. The village was a railroad terminus that supplied salt and lumber to Confederate forces during the Civil War.
On Saturday, bright yellow bows adorned almost every other turn-of-the-century home there. American flags were nailed to many of the wood power poles along the main street. There were posters next to sidewalks in front of homes with Brian’s photograph on them proclaiming, “Home Town Hero, Support our Troops.”
Cedar Key grieved for its fallen Marine, brought home and buried with honor.
When the silver-blue hearse backed up to the front door of the gymnasium at Cedar Key School precisely at 8:30 a.m., a spit-shined 17-person burial detail from the 4th Assault Amphibious Battalion in Tampa, commanded by Lt. Col James Beatty, was there to meet it.
The Marines rested their fallen comrade’s casket on a gurney at one end of the basketball court.
A giant picture of a white shark with menacing white teeth and the inscription: “Cedar Key Sharks” in bold black letters covered part of the back wall of the gym above the basket. The basketball backboard was draped in black, and Brian’s official Marine Corps photograph in dress blues and white hat standing in front of an American flag hung over the hoop. Attached to the basket was a bright blue bow.
The Pepsi scoreboard on the back wall read: “Guest 19, Home 82.” That was for 1982—the year Brian was born. The minutes and second clock read: 20 minutes, 03 Seconds—2003, the year he died.
Two hundred folding chairs were placed in 29 precise rows in the center of the court for family and close friends. There was additional seating for 400 more in the dark-blue wooden bleachers flanking both side of the court. By 8:45 a.m. mourners began pouring through the main double doors in a steady stream. By 10 a.m., when a Navy chaplain began the funeral service, 800 people took every available seat in the gym and more were standing three deep across the back wall as others looked in from outside.
With the flag-draped casket in front of the assembled mourners and two Marines standing at rigid parade rest, the chaplain began the 40-minute service.
“We are not supposed to be doing this,” William Buesing, Brian’s father told hundreds who packed the school’s gym as he stood before the coffin of his dead son. “We’re not supposed to bury our children,” the 49-year-old father said sadly.
The young Marine’s mother, Peggy Steve, kissed and hugged her son’s coffin, lingering for several moments before Navy Chaplain William Wildhack helped her back to her seat.
In his opening remarks to the mourners, the minister said, “No one becomes a Marine because it’s easy. These Marines died fighting for freedom for a people they had never seen.”
The senior Buesing took the podium and told the crowd, “He was a good boy, a strong boy who became a strong man.”
The father said he thought America understood the purpose of the war.
“But I didn’t understand why I’m burying my son. It will be a long time before I do. Then, he looked skyward.
“Brian, please save a place up there for me. I want to stand right next to you,” his father said.
When the funeral service in the school gym concluded, the burial detail led by the chaplain, escorted the casket to the waiting caisson as family and friends followed.
Two drivers in blue Civil War uniforms handled the horses as the caisson slowly snaked its way down the rough blacktop road to the cemetery a half-mile away. Family members were driven in limousines, while many mourners made the half-mile trek to the grave site on foot.
His family bid farewell to Brain as the chaplain spoke the last words to those assembled. Three volleys in quick succession were fired by a rifle squad that jolted the mourners back from the grave.
The mournful strain of “Taps” was sounded by a bugler.
People bowed heads and wiped away tears.
Brian’s mother walked to the grave, put one arm over her son’s casket, placed her face against the cold metal side and wept.
Name: Brian Rory Buesing
Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
Address: Cedar Key, Fla.
Entered Service: July 11, 2000
Discharged: Killed in Action, March 23, 2003, Iraq
Rank: Marine Lance Corporal
Unit: Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Camp LeJuene, N.C.
Commendations: Purple Heart
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, April 6, 2003 and is republished with permission.
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Here’s the real story behind
Lance Cpl. Brian Buesing’s death in Iraq
Editor’s Note: In August 2003, five months after Brian’s family received word from the Marine Corps their son had been killed in action in Iraq, they were provided with an official account of what happened to him. This is a copy of a letter William Buesing, Jr., Brian’s father, sent me concerning what they were told about their boy’s death.
By William Buesing, Jr.
Brian was with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Charlie Company out of Camp Le Jeune, N.C.
He was a member of a 15-man, well-trained, mortar and weapons unit deployed to Iraq that was ready for combat. They were told they would be going in first and they did.
On March 23, 2003, his unit was preparing for an attack on An Nasiriyah, Iraq, when they were informed that an Army unit had come under fire and had suffered heavy casualties. This forced them to move up plans and go in a day ahead of time to rescue the Army maintenance unit. They left at 4 a.m for An Nasiriyah.
At approximately 1300 hours (1 p.m.) Charlie Company passed through Company A and attacked north to secure the northern bridge. They were the point unit. Charlie Company was engaged by enemy mortars, artillery, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy small arms fire at 1405 hours (2:05 p.m.).
Brian set up three mortars and they started taking out enemy positions. The enemy, believed to be a full brigade of Iraqi soldiers, had the Marines pinned down.
They were informed they would have to wait for help, so they fought on. We were told Brian kept a positive attitude and cracked one-liners to keep the guys upbeat and positive.
At approximately 1500 hours (3 p.m.) Brian and three others were running ammunition to their forward mortar when an enemy mortar struck beneath them and took their lives. My son, Lance Cpl. Brian Rory Buesing, Gy. Sgt. Phillip Jordan, 1st Lt. Frederick Pokorne and Cpl. Kernaphoom Chanawongse were all killed instantly.
The battle ended at approximately 1600 hours (4 p.m.) with both bridges secured. Charlie Company had 11 KIA (Killed In Action), four critically wounded out of 18 men at the point. The Iraqi soldiers retreated.
None of the 15 men on Charlie Company’s mortar squad or the forward observers have received medals other than the Purple Heart. I have enclosed pictures and a map of the combat area along with two letters, one from Gen. Erick K. Shinseki and the other from 1st Lt. James Reid, his platoon leader.
‘Brian died a hero for his fellow Marines’
I write this letter with a heavy heart and deep sadness. No words can truly summarize the actions of Brian. In so many ways, he embodied the Marine Corps’ core values of honor, courage and commitment even though he did manage to find himself in trouble every now and again.
Brian was so much more proficient on the 60-millimeter mortar than any of the Marines around him. His hard work and devotion to getting things done right the first time also distinguished him from his peers. Whether in training, garrison or the field, I could always count on Brian to do his job and teach others to do the same. He did it in such a unique way, too. He was so laid back and always had a smile on his face no matter how miserable things got. His spirit and humor were respected by his fellow Marines and were vital to the motivation of the men around him.
Once on the ground in the desert of Kuwait, you could always count on Brian. He helped train several Marines who were considered troubled Marines. He did for them what no one else could. He earned their respect and taught them how to be mortar men. This action alone tells so much of Brian’s character. He would never give up on a person and was a teacher at heart. It was a difficult and monotonous environment, but he made everyday life a little spicier with his good humor and imagination.
When we crossed into battle and pushed up to An Nasiriyah, Brian was fearless. He understood his job so well and wanted nothing more than to take care of his fellow Marines. On March 23, our company attacked to seize a key bridge over the Saddam Canal.
Brian proved to all of us that he was indeed the icon of courage, gallantry and heroism. His actions that day were without question a vital factor in the company’s hard fought victory against determined enemy resistance and he inspired confidence in me and the Marines around him.
Under relentless and withering enemy fire, Brian was laughing as he got his mortar system into action and quickly dropped mortar rounds on several key enemy positions. I want you to know that Brian died facing the enemy. I hope your heart swells with pride when you think of Brian. Mine does, for Brian did so much for so many and asked for nothing in return. He died a hero fighting for his brother Marines and that is something most men in this world do not have the courage to do.
James “Ben” Reid
1st Lt. USMC
Four young Marines exemplify the meaning of Semper Fidelis
Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Thursday, April 10, 2003
When I got back to my office Monday in Englewood after covering Lance Cpl. Brian Buesing ‘s funeral Saturday in Cedar Key, there were a bunch of e-mails waiting for me as usual. Among them were two on the same subject, from David Weaver and Rufus Lazzell.
“A friend of mine forwarded this to me today. Here’s a genuine story of putting others first, all the way from the combat zone in Iraq.
“Martin Savidge of CNN, embedded with the 1st Marine Battalion, was talking with four young Marines near his foxhole this morning live on CNN. He had been telling the story of how well the Marines had been looking out for and taking care of him since the war started. He went on to tell about the many hardships the Marines had endured since the war began and how they all look after one another.
“He turned to the four and said he had cleared it with their commanders, they could use his video phone to call home. The 19-year-old Marine next to him asked Martin if he would allow his platoon sergeant to use his call to call his pregnant wife back home whom he had not been able to talk to in three months. A stunned Savidge, who was visibly moved by the request, nodded his head as the young Marine ran off to get the sergeant.
“Savidge recovered after a few seconds and turned back to the three young Marines still sitting with him and asked which one of them would like to call home first. The Marine closest to him responded without a moment’s hesitation: ‘Sir, if it’s all the same to you, we would like to call the parents of a buddy of ours, Lance Cpl. Brian Buesing of Cedar Key, Fla., who was killed on 3/23/03 near An Nasiriya, to see how they are doing.’
“At that, Savidge totally broke down and was unable to speak. All he could get out before signing off was, ‘Where do they get young men like this?’ ”
The three young men tried to call Brian ‘s parents but were unable to reach them because of technical problems, according to William Buesing Jr., his father. He said Monday, “I got a call from a general telling me that the three Marines made an attempt to call me.”
All I can can say to these three Marines is “Semper Fidelis.”
Brian was the young Marine killed in an Iraqui ambush near An Nasiriyah. He spent his freshman year at Charlotte High and graduated from Cedar Key School, where he was buried on Saturday.
Another letter about Brian
I got this e-mail Tuesday from Omar M. Rashash, asking that I send it on to Brian ‘s parents.
“To the Parents of Brian Buesing,
“Late last Wednesday, I received an e-mail from my daughter at the Air Force Academy. She informed me she had just found out that one of her friends, your son, Brian, had been killed in Iraq. Since she can’t be reached by phone, I was forced to give what comfort I could by e-mail. I found her message affected me on a number of levels. While concerned about how this would affect her emotionally, and her school work, I was also forced to confront other issues.
“I’d met Brian when he came over to my home with my daughter and some of her other friends. I can’t say I got to know him well, because I generally tried to give these young Marines some space. When they were off-duty, the last thing they needed was another authority figure giving them the third degree. Soft drinks, a bowl of popcorn and a DVD were usually sufficient to entertain them. The loss of your son tends to personalize for me what had been, heretofore, an abstract event.
“My oldest son is a Marine who volunteered to go to Okinawa, Japan, last May. In November, rather than just stay there, he volunteered to deploy to the Gulf. Now, rather than sitting out this war in safety, he’s doing what he can to get into the fray. While proud of his decisions, I’m fearful for his safety. As a father, I don’t want him there, but as a former Marine, I understand the desire and I want to be there myself. I’m forced to face the issue: If not my son, then whose?
“My son’s joining the Marine Corps was a personal decision, unaffected by any pressure or input from me. His military specialty of nuclear, biological, and chemical technician means he’s abundantly aware of the risks he’d face. What small comfort I was able to give my daughter included the following statements: ‘These young Marines are where they want to be. They are doing what needs to be done. They wouldn’t be anywhere else, or have it any other way.’
“Truly, there are no words I can offer to give real comfort. To answer the question of, ‘Where do they get young men like this?’ They are forged in a brotherhood at places like Parris Island and Quantico and they come from homes like yours and mine.
“With respect and thanks,
“Omar M. Rashash”