OCEANSIDE, Calif., Dec. 2 - Half a world away and a day later, the deadly blast of a roadside bomb in Falluja stopped young marines in their tracks here on Friday.
This latest improvised explosive device - the military's bloodless jargon for every soldier and marine's worst fear, the death you don't see coming - claimed the lives of 10 marines and wounded 11 more, the worst attack on American troops in four months.
Families were still being notified, so word had scarcely begun to spread in Oceanside, on the doorstep of Camp Pendleton, or in Jacksonville, N.C., home to Camp Lejeune, the two bases that military officials hinted would bear the brunt of the mourning.
Both cities have grown all too accustomed to this ritual, of hearing the news, steeling for the details, grieving and getting on with life till the next time: Camp Pendleton has lost more than 255 troops in Iraq, Camp Lejeune more than 140.
But the nature of Thursday's attack, hitting troops on foot patrol with a powerful bomb fashioned from several heavy artillery shells, seemed to a group of marines meandering along downtown Oceanside's yellow-ribboned storefronts on Friday afternoon like another ratcheting up of the risks.
And yet another reason for the young marines to voice doubts about the mission in Iraq.
Lance Cpl. Tom Moran, at 20 already a veteran of two years in the Corps and two tours in Iraq, blinked in disbelief. "They don't usually try to hit us on foot," he said. "They usually go after you in armored vehicles."
He said his unit had been getting plenty of training in dealing with improvised explosive devices. "But it's very hard to spot them," he said.
"They keep finding new things to make them out of," said Pfc. Harrison Records, 22, of Bakersfield, Calif.
Another young marine seemed less struck by the size of the bomb than by the number of casualties. "We don't need to be there no more," said Pfc. Chris Blow, 19, of Dallas, speaking under his breath. But a moment later, his face tightened into anger. "It makes me want to go over again even more, and get some of them," he said.
In Jacksonville, where memorial services for as many as 20 marines have been held in the last few weeks, the Falluja attack still hit hard, said Staff Sgt. Angela Mink, a base spokeswoman. "Last night I was singing 'Have a Very Merry Christmas,' and today, this," she said. "Every time you lose someone, it's like a punch in the stomach, and it's a sucker-punch at that. We have to deal with it, and we have to talk to the media about it, but it's like trying to talk nonchalantly about the fact that your kid brother got killed."
At a tattoo parlor near the main gate to Camp Lejeune, Lance Cpl. Clinton Fort, 21, of Marietta, Ga., was getting one of his five tattoos touched up. He showed off his latest, the one he got as soon as he returned from Iraq in October: a helmet, saying "R.I.P. Klinger," rested on a rifle in a pair of military boots.
Corporal Fort said that Klinger - he couldn't remember his friend's first name, but missed him just the same - was killed by a roadside bomb in Falluja over the summer. "He was just Klinger to me," he said.
He said he had seen and heard more roadside bombs go off than he could count. Back stateside, he said, he finds himself seizing up just seeing trash bags in his neighbors' driveways. "I expect them to blow up, even if I know I'm home," he said. "I'm still on the edge."
Corporal Fort said he, like other marines, was getting more and more eager for a withdrawal from Iraq. "We're marines, and we're going do what we've got to do, but now it seems like all that is happening is that marines are dying," he said. "I wish we could just pull out and go home to our families."
Here in Oceanside, Matt, a 23-year-old Marine corporal, strolled with his new wife, Missy, along a pier as the sun set and surfers caught the day's last waves. They had just watched his younger brother graduate from boot camp.
"I have no problem going over there, doing what my country asks," said Matt, who asked that his name not be used because he was afraid of retaliation from his superiors. "But sometimes it seems like there's no point any more. We've gone, we did what we needed to do, but we're still there. That country's always going to be fighting. That's their history. If we were to stay till we're finished, we'd probably never leave."
John DeSantis contributed reporting from Pennsylvaniafor this article, and Majsan Bostrom from Jacksonville, N.C.