Most Recent 2 USMC KIA In Afghan-"Average Americans"

On January 24, First Lieutenant Aaron MacLean led his unit on a foot patrol near insurgent bastion Marjah, expected to be the scene of a major offensive this month.

MacLean's unit is among the first Marines outfits sent into Helmand since the surge was announced.

"Suddenly we were taking shots from three sides, they tried to get to our rear but were not successful," he said, describing the fateful day.

About 30-40 Taliban militants, possibly backed by foreign fighters, ambushed them just as they neared a cluster of homes, he said.

"The day that Daniel and Zachary died, the platoon was in an area which is known to harbour a large number of the enemy," MacLean said during an emotional memorial service rarely seen by the public at a forward operating base.

Angus and Smith were tasked to move to another area and provide cover for Marines flat-bellied on the dust.

An expert rifleman, Smith was fending off enemy fire when he stepped on a remote-controlled bomb, known as an IED, or improvised explosive device, which threw him metres (yards) into the air.

"Without regard for his own safety and shouting for other Marines to watch out for a secondary bomb, Angus rushed to Smith's side and ordered his men away knowing full well the risk," he said.

"He died instantly from the blast," he said.

The three-hour firefight, MacLean said, proved the Taliban were adapting to the Marine strategy and were well entrenched in Marjah, a poppy growing region where victory could give Washington its first vindication for the fresh surge.

"That is the nature of the beast," MacLean said. "Marine infantrymen are aggressive by trade and things can go from bad to worse out here."

Angus, 28, left behind a wife and daughter, and Smith his high school sweetheart whom he had just married before deploying.

Both were honoured in an emotional ceremony on January 30 and were posthumously awarded the purple heart for combat heroism.

Their rifles, helmets, boots and dog tags were displayed, as one by one weeping colleagues paid their respects under the searing noonday sun and a 21-gun salute followed as a mournful Christian hymn played over speakers.

Acknowledging the men's ultimate sacrifice, Lieutenant Colonel Calvert Worth told his men to stick to their mission and celebrate the lives of the two young troops, describing Smith as just an "average American kid".

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