Marine Heroes in Iraq Get TV Reunion

04/10/2003 at 10:41 AM EDT

Edward Chin and David Sager, the two American Marines who draped the American flag on the head of the 20-foot statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad on Wednesday -- before they removed the flag, put a chain around Saddam's neck and helped Iraqis topple the statue -- were briefly but dramatically reunited with their families back home on TV Thursday morning, thanks to a live, televised hookup on the "Today" show.

"David," said Sager's parents, sitting in their living room in Northern California, "you made the front page of the Contra Costa Times!"

Practically all of those involved, including "Today" host Katie Couric, could barely hold back the tears.

"Your grandmother is here," the Sagers told their son, "and she also knows what you did."

What Sager and Chin did was create an image equivalent to hoisting the American flag at Iwo Jima near the close of World War II. Their actions, beamed across the world on live TV, represented the American liberation of Iraq.

It was Chin who actually climbed up by himself and placed the flag over Saddam's face.

Sager, 26, who draped the chain around the statue's neck (jubilant Iraqis defaced it once it hit the ground), stressed that the Marines quickly removed the U.S. flag, replacing it with the Iraqi flag, to show that the country has been returned to its own people.

For the Chin family of Brooklyn, seeing their Iraqi-based son on TV came out of the blue. They were simply being interviewed on the show when Couric announced, "Actually, we have a surprise for you."

The Marines couldn't see their families but they could hear them -- and Couric then told the 22-year-old that his girlfriend back home, Anna Fu, had a date to set with him when he returns.

"We miss you," Chin's parents told him. "Be careful. We'll see you when you get home."

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