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TUZLA, Bosnia and Herzegovina — The two former soldiers, their souls seared by war, paid their solemn respects during a memorial service Monday.

The two mourned not fallen comrades from past wars, as Americans did on this (Memorial Day), but the 71 fellow Bosnians killed May 25, 1995, by a Serbian artillery shell.

Those who died were mostly young Bosnians between 15 and 25 who had gathered at a cobbled square in the old section of Tuzla during the Day of Youth. That was an event linked to the birthday celebration of Marshal Tito, the communist leader who shaped Yugoslavia from 1946 to 1980. But the celebration, like many other aspects of Bosnian life, has undergone change as a result of the 3½-year Bosnian war.

"We used to have a youth day when Tito was in power, and today we have the day of sorrow for youth," said Seiko Delic, one of the two former soldiers who joined thousands Monday attending the quiet ceremony at the site of the blast The ceremony, at which not a word was spoken, began about 8:55 p.m. — the time of the tragedy three years ago — when a stringed quartet played music by the Italian composer Tommaso Albinoni. That was the same music played on local radio stations the day after the track incident and again Monday.

Afterward, a light above the square was turned on in remembrance of the 71 dead while nearby bells torn Catholic and Orthodox churches rang and the Muslim call to prayer sounded. Residents then were allowed to go to the memorial site, where a mound of flowers soon grew.

The original cobblestone, scarred by the impact of the 130mm artillery shell that landed that day, has been replaced by modern white stone in the square and surrounding streets. But the small area where most of the victims stood is marked by colored stone, and the area where the deadly blast impacted bears the insignia of Tuzla's coat of arms.

The second former soldier, a friend of Delic's who asked not to be identified, stood Monday near the spot where he was three years ago during the blast. He had come to Tuzta that warm and pleasant day on a military pass from the front lines at Majevica Mountain northeast of the city of about 100,000.

In the minutes before the blast, warning sirens had sounded and a shell had landed elsewhere.

But by this stage of the war the residents had become accustomed to the somewhat routine shelling and did not always readily respond to warning sirens or the shriek of incoming artillery.

The soldier, now a waiter and a student who graduated Tuesday from Tuzla University with a teaching degree, said he left six fellow soldiers at the square about 30 seconds beforehand and was about 300 feet away when the shell landed.

He didn't realize its seriousness until he arrived at a friend's house and saw on television what had happened. He then began a frantic attempt by telephone to find out if his fellow soldiers were alive.

They survived.

"I kept dialing the whole night and I was so happy I was ready to jump out the window" he said. As he spoke before Monday's ceremony, the crowd grew larger around him.

Back in May 1995, however, he soon learned that 15 other friends died in the shell blast. Seven days after the incident, his unit went on the offensive for about 35 hours, advancing against enemy lines, he said, as if "we all had wings."

Each soldier on the offensive had lost a friend or family member in the carnage that struck Tuzla on May 25.

The former soldier said he was among those who later located what is believed to be the weapon that fired the deadly blast from about 15 miles away, atop Ozren Mountain. He helped bring the weapon to its present location in front of the Bosnian military headquarters in downtown Tuzla

The name, Milos, believed to be the name of the gun's operator, is inscribed on its surface.

The former soldier said the target that day three years ago was no mistake. That particular type of weaponry was known for its accuracy, he said "They knew exactly what they were shooting at."


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