CAMERYNLEE was only three years old when her father, Lance Corporal Eric Orlowski, a Marine Corps reservist, was killed in an accidental shooting during the first days of the Iraq war.
Now 8, she is suddenly hungry for information about the man she remembers only sketchily. Did he like chicken wings as much as she does? How about hockey? Was he funny?
"When it happened, I don't think she fully understood," said her mother, Nicole Kross, 29. "At that age she really didn't ask too many questions. It's all coming out more now."
In a grim marker of the longevity of the war, children who were infants or toddlers when they lost a parent in action are growing up. In the process, they are coming to grips with death in new, more mature and at times more painful ways — pondering a parent they barely knew, asking pointed questions about the circumstances of the death and experiencing delayed grief.
Families and bereavement counsellors say media coverage of the war, dedication ceremonies and even school events — in which most classmates have both parents in attendance — can all heighten yearning for the missing parent.
For young children, prickly feelings and questions often arise just as the surviving parent is moving beyond their own grief.
"As three-year-olds, they have a pragmatic, concrete concept," said Joanne Steen, co-author of Military Widow: A Survival Guide. "They'll say matter-of-factly, 'My Daddy died.' But at significant points in their lives, they go back and revisit this, and it's really hard on the surviving spouse. They end up telling the story over and over again of how Daddy died at each stage."
Nevertheless, many parents work hard to keep the memory of the dead parent alive for their children.
CamerynLee and her mother, sitting in their kitchen in this middle-class town outside Buffalo, looked at pictures of Lance Corporal Orlowski, along with letters of condolence from President George Bush and former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Outside, the Marine Corps flag was flying alongside a Halloween scarecrow.
Ms Kross also showed her daughter a letter her husband wrote from Kuwait City, which began: "What's up, ladies?"
He ended it by telling CamerynLee to be a "good girl for Mommy" and urging Nicole to "take care of yourself".
It was the first time Ms Kross had shown the letter to CamerynLee, who said "I think about him every day" as she studied the letter. "I remember cooking with him. He was helping me flip the sausages. I remember him carrying me. I wish he was still alive."
In some cases, involving children very young or not even born when a parent died, the surviving parents try to create memories.
Brandy Williams, of Waipahu, Hawaii, had a three-year-old daughter and another on the way when her husband, Sergeant Eugene Williams, was killed by a car bomb in March 2003.
Ms Williams has three videos of her husband and the girls, Mya, 8, and Monica, 4, have watched them repeatedly. There is also a table in the living room displaying his army beret and pictures of him smiling.
"My worst fear is that they'll forget about him," Ms Williams said.
There was no image for this story. I decided to use this disturbing picture instead, thinking this is how some iraqi children 'learn how daddy died'.
Click to view image: '110562-iraqi_deaths.jpg'
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