Watching reports of the last American troops leaving Iraq was a bittersweet experience for Steve Countouriotis of Petaluma, a former Army helicopter pilot who served two tours during the nine-year war.
“I was happy that our mission was complete,” said Countouriotis, a retired lieutenant colonel who says the military did its job in Iraq by “freeing 25 million people from tyranny.”
But Countouriotis, sitting alone before a TV late at night, was dismayed by the low-keyed nature of the event, with other soldiers — and no dignitaries — waiting at the Kuwaiti border for the last military convoy to cross out of Iraq at daybreak Dec. 18.
“We really only have each other,” said Countouriotis, 60, who retired in 2009 after 23 years of active duty and four combat tours, including two in Afghanistan, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Counting his three children — Nick and Demetrius Countouriotis and Alethea Bordwell — the family has served seven tours in Iraq, with two more tours by his son-in-law, Jared Bordwell.
The end of the war that claimed 4,487 American lives, injured 32,226 and cost an estimated $800 billion stirred emotions for other Sonoma County residents who fought or lost a loved one in Iraq.
They are relieved the conflict is over but struggle with the question of whether the nation's sacrifice — and their own incalculable loss — was worthwhile.
“No one else has to lose their children over there,” said Herb Williams of Santa Rosa, whose son, Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams, 25, was killed in Iraq in 2007.
But Williams, 75, an Army veteran, also recalls his son's observation, just before returning to Iraq for his second tour in 2006, that the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds had been fighting in Iraq for 1,000 years and weren't likely to stop due to America's brief presence.