JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – March marks 20 years since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

It also marks the anniversary of one of the first large-scale battles during the operation where 18 Marines gave the ultimate sacrifice. Camp Lejeune had a special ceremony Thursday morning that paid tribute to the lives lost during the Battle of An-Nasiriyah. 

Active duty troops, family members, and veterans came together on base to remember and honor the fallen. One by one, the Marines’ names were called and helmets were placed on top of rifles to make battlefield crosses, one for each of the lives lost.  

“Part of being a military unit is making sure that you honor your unit’s heritage, and the people that came before you, and doing that kind of allows you to be able to do some of the difficult things that we’re asked to do,” said the Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, Lt. Col. Aaron Awtry. 

The battle started on March 23, 2003, and went on until April 2, 2023. Marines and sailors fought against Iraqi forces to help provide civil rest to those living in the city. Veterans like Adam Freeman fought in the battle and remember it like it was yesterday.  

“I was there to help carry some of the wounded and the dead out. We were in disbelief, or at least I was in disbelief,” said Freeman. “It never fades, every night I have the same dream over and over and it’s always of March 23.” 

LCpl Tamario Burkett was one of the 18 killed in the battle. His family was at the ceremony holding his picture to make sure he is never forgotten.  

“We’re just so thankful that they even take the time to remember them all. And so that means a lot to us so much, because, you know, he’s on our mind every day a lot of the time because everywhere I walk in the house, I’m looking at his picture,” said one of his family members, Rutha Burkett-Hunt. 

Click here to read more about the history of the battle.