Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Marine Cpl. David S. Stewart

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Cpl. David S. Stewart, 24, of Bogalusa, Louisiana.

Cpl Stewart died when his amphibious Assault Vehicle was attacked by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations south of Haditha, Iraq. He was assigned to Marine Force Reserve’s 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Gulfport, Mississippi.

The last news Sandra Stewart received from her son in Iraq was that the Marine Corps treated him and others to a down-home Fourth of July meal complete with cheese grits.

The event was a high point for Cpl. David Stewart, but the Southern cooking was a tangible reminder of his desire to be home with his family and his fiance.

But more news -- the worst possible news -- came Wednesday afternoon, when Sandra Stewart returned home from a hair appointment to see several Marines waiting at her Bogalusa house.

Stewart, 24, a reservist in the 4th Amphibious Assault Battalion based in Gulfport, Miss., was killed Wednesday along with 13 other Marines and an interpreter when their vehicle hit an explosive device in western Iraq.

His father, Joey Stewart, said officials told the family that David Stewart and another Marine stationed in Gulfport were transporting a group of Ohio Marines when a bomb exploded beneath their vehicle, killing 15 people instantly.

'He was the life of it all'

Known affectionately as "Bear" to almost everyone who knew him, Stewart made the decision to join the Marine Corps later than most people, his family said, but it was a decision that changed his attitude and gave him an opportunity to excel.

Scrapbooks, military photographs, awards and Stewart's Marine uniform were strewn Thursday around the living room of the rural home near the Pearl River, where Stewart spent many years camping, hunting and fishing with his father and brother.

"Proud is an understatement for how we feel about Bear," said Stewart's sister, Joanna Stewart. "He was such a kind, tenderhearted person."

Stewart, who died a little more than a week before his 25th birthday, was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. He left in March and was expected to return in October. He joined the Marine Corps reserves in 2001 at age 20.

During his first tour from January 2003 to July 2003, he was part of the initial sweep toward Baghdad at the beginning of the war, his mother said. He proved his mettle during that stint when he climbed on top of his tank under fire to repair a gun that had jammed.

His courage earned him a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for valor during combat.

"You could tell just by the way he carried himself that he had a lot of confidence in his skills," Joanna Stewart said.

After returning home from his first tour in Iraq, Stewart made the drive almost every other weekend from Gulfport to visit with his family in Bogalusa and to fish and hunt, one of his favorite pastimes.

Longtime family friend Robert Seal, who lives in Baton Rouge, said he will never forget the way he felt during a party at the Bogalusa home when Stewart and his Marine friends returned from their first tour in Iraq.

"It was a very serious event, but there was such a sense of joy," Seal said.

Described as very polite and respectful to elders, Stewart had a mischievous sense of humor. He was prone to play practical jokes from a young age, family members and friends said.

"He was just the life of it all," said Stewart's brother, Jason Stewart.

Becoming a 'fine Marine'

Stewart attended several high schools, including Annunciation Catholic and Bogalusa High, but he dropped out and got a GED, his mother said.

After working local odd jobs for a few years after high school, Stewart made the choice to join the Marines in 2001.

"We were kind of shocked by him joining the Marine Corps," said Mike Seale, Stewart's uncle. "But he loved it, and he was undoubtedly making himself into a fine Marine."

His aunt, Nelda Vanderhilder, described his return from boot camp as bringing on "an instant maturity."

"I just knew he had so much promise," she said.

Stewart was engaged in April to Andrea Birkenstock of Lafayette, a friend of his sister's. The two planned to get married in May or June 2006.

The family heard from Stewart every three or four weeks. He was usually in good spirits, but his mother said he had been homesick lately and was talking about leaving the service when the time came next year.

Marine Cpl. David S. Stewart was killed in action on 08/03/05.

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