FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) _ Army officials on Tuesday began the solemn process of contacting the families of nine paratroopers killed in a suicide truck bombing in Iraq, the single deadliest attack for the storied 82nd Airborne Division in nearly 40 years.
Twenty paratroopers from the same division were wounded in the blast, which was also the single greatest loss of life for American ground forces in Iraq since Dec. 1, 2005, when a roadside bomb killed 10 Marines and wounded 11 on a foot patrol near Fallujah.
``It's tough. Nobody wants to go to a military funeral,'' said Spc. John Fisher, standing with his wife and newborn son outside a restaurant in nearby Spring Lake. ``It's not something you want to happen to yourself, but it's part of the job of defending your country.''
A senior Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information has not yet been released, said the attack involved suicide bombers in two large dump trucks, including one that got close to a patrol base building. The official said some of the casualties may have been caused by the collapse of two walls.
The soldiers were members of the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Bragg. A civilian interpreter was also wounded in the attack.
Fifteen of the wounded suffered only superficial injuries and returned to duty. Five others were evacuated to a military hospital, but none of them has life-threatening injuries, division spokesman Maj. Tom Earnhardt said.
The identities of the dead soldiers were not immediately released. An insurgent group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, according to an Internet-posted statement Tuesday.
The loss was the largest for the 82nd Airborne since June 1969, when 12 paratroopers were ambushed and killed in Vietnam, Earnhardt said, citing division historical records.
``The difference between the 82nd and most other combat units is that something like this, instead of diminishing morale, will ultimately strengthen it,'' Earnhardt said. ``These paratroopers will be more determined than ever to get it done. They look at adversity through a different kind of scope.''
The paratroopers' families were still being notified Tuesday, Earnhardt said. Only two of the soldiers have family on or near Fort Bragg, said Maj. Jim Brisson, the base's deputy division chaplain.
Earnhardt said 106 soldiers from the division have been in killed in combat since Sept. 11, 2001.
The 82nd Division, which has about two-thirds of its soldiers deployed, must assemble nine notification teams and prepare to counsel families and assign each a casualty assistance officer, he said.
A memorial service will be held in May at the base, about 70 miles south of Raleigh, Earnhardt said.
``It definitely makes you mad. It makes you thankful for what you've got while you're home,'' said Pvt. Michael Gribben, 20, of Youngstown, Ohio. Gribben, a truck driver in the 18th Airborne Corps, is scheduled to deploy to Kuwait later this year.
The 82nd Airborne is one of the nation's most celebrated military units, having played major roles in many of the Army's biggest operations.
Its paratroopers were nicknamed the ``All-Americans'' in World War II, when they jumped into Italy, flew on gliders into Normandy and parachuted into Holland. In 1989, soldiers parachuted into Panama to help oust dictator Manuel Noriega.
The paratroopers' unit deployed in August to Iraq. In all, the division has four brigade combat teams in Iraq or Afghanistan, plus a supply brigade in Iraq and an aviation brigade split between Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of the roughly 18,000 paratroopers in the division, only about 6,000 remain at Fort Bragg, and 3,500 of those are scheduled to deploy to Iraq early this summer.
The deaths raised to 85 the number of U.S. service members who died have in Iraq in April, making it the deadliest month for American troops since December, when 112 died.
``It's very sobering. It hits very close to home and makes you feel bad for the families that are left behind,'' said Ralph Spivey, a retired school principal in Fayetteville who has worked as a civilian employee at Fort Bragg.
``It makes you realize how much evil is out there,'' he added.