March 16, 2008— -- The true cost of war is tallied in lives. Since the United States-led invasion of Iraq five years ago, more than 100,000 Iraqis and 3,987 Americans have died, according to the Department of Defense.
Today "Good Morning America Weekend" featured the stories of three young men, who went to Iraq filled with noble ambition, and left behind shattered families and a grateful nation.
Five years ago Monday, Jamaal Addison, then 22 years old, called his mother to tell her he was leaving for Iraq. He had enrolled in the Army to gain training as a computer technician and better provide for his family.
"I was truly, truly afraid for his life and I knew that if I wasn't there, no one around him that knew him would be there to help him, protect him, do anything," recalled his mother, Patricia Roberts.
It was their final conversation. Four days into the war, on Mar. 23, 2003, Addison's unit was ambushed and he became the first soldier from Georgia to lose his life. When the bereavement officers arrived at Patricia Roberts' door, they didn't have to say a word.
"I just knew when I saw them, I didn't want to talk to them. I shut my door on them because I was thinking, 'If I don't let them in, then I'm not gonna hear the news. It's not gonna be so' ... I just couldn't imagine how scared he was -- him wanting me to be there. It was the worst day of my life," Roberts said.
"I still remember her saying it just like it was yesterday. She looked at me and said, 'They killed your brother,' and I felt like I couldn't breathe because it really happened. Something I thought wasn't possible and it happened," said Jamal's sister, Chanel Addison.
Time is supposed to rub the edges off the hurt, but Jamaal's family is still waiting for that to happen.
"Although it has been five years, it's one of those type of experiences that feels like it was just yesterday... It doesn't feel like any time has passed by. It doesn't get easier at all," Jamaal's other sister, Celisse Roberts, said.
Jamaal also left behind a son, Jamaal Jr. Now 6 years old, Jamaal Jr. last saw his father on his first birthday.
He was a Duke University graduate and an Army Ranger. He was set to marry his medical student sweetheart last Saturday. But IEDs have no regard for talent or love, and on Feb. 9, 2007, Sgt. Regan was killed.
"I wish more than anything I could talk to Jimmy in the privacy of our home. That would be real nice. ... I can't," said Mary McHugh, Regan's fiancée who often visits his grave at Arlington National Cemetery. "It doesn't feel as hard sometimes when I'm here because I know this isn't what he wanted either. And so I just ask him for help.
"He went out very quick. So that's the one saving thing to me -- that I know he didn't have to lay there and think about Mary, think about his family and know that he was actually dying," said his mother, Mary Regan.
"He had simple hopes of just being happy, you know," McHugh said. "He wanted to teach and coach lacrosse and be a good husband and be a good dad. And he was gonna be awesome at all those things.
"I've been lucky," she said. "I've been lucky in my life that I've had challenges but most of them have been challenges that when you complete them then there's a reward, there at the end... It was supposed to be happily ever after. He was supposed to come home."
Click here to learn more about Lead The Way, the charity the Regans set up in Sgt. Regan's honor.
Ever since he was a little boy, Kevin Mowl was interested in the military. As a hearing child of deaf parents, Mowl was the first soldier in his family.
"You know, something inside him was calling him, telling him that he needed to be in the Army. So it has always been a part of him," said his father Harold Mowl.
When Kevin reached Iraq he learned Arabic and considered a career in conflict resolution. His unit survived 36 IED attacks. The 37th put him into a coma, and on Feb. 25, 2008, he died.
"Kevin's striker drove over a storm drain that had been packed with explosives," he sister, Carlene Mowl said. "They estimate about a ton of explosives, I believe. Three men were killed on impact and many others were injured, including Kevin."
"The doctors thought that he had a pretty good chance because he was able to communicate with us through sign language ... I was prepared for rehab. I was prepared to be away from home for one or two years, to stay with him. But I wasn't prepared for the moment that he would die. I wasn't prepared at all," said his mother, Mary Mowl.
Mary said that when she thinks of Kevin, "the first thing I'll think of is when he smiles. I'll see his dimple and his bright blue eyes, a happy kid. That's the first thing I think when I think about him."
"Kevin was my best friend. He was a lot of fun. He would challenge me in many, many ways. Yeah, I miss him so much," Harold said. "I do have to say that we need to provide constant support to the soldiers who are there, to the soldiers who are serving our country all over the world. We can't forget that."