Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Navy Hospitalman Marc A. Retmier

Remember Our Heroes

Navy Hospitalman Marc A. Retmier, 19, of Hemet, Calif.

Hospitalman Retmier was assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Sharana in Afghanistan; died June 18, 2008 as a result of wounds sustained from an enemy rocket attack in Zerok province, Afghanistan. Also killed was Construction Mechanic 1st Class Ross L. Toles III.

Press-Enterprise -- When two men in white formal military uniforms came to the home of Joy Retmier this week, they didn't have to say a word. The mother of Marc Retmier broke down in tears.

"When they came to the house, I knew instantly," Joy Retmier said, surrounded by photos, flowers and a single candle burning near the kitchen table. "I told him to be careful, 'Please be careful.' I told him, 'Don't offer to go on dangerous missions. I want you to come home safe. I want you to come home alive.' "

The 19-year-old Navy medic had left Hemet at age 17, seeking the adrenaline rush of the front lines.

Marc Retmier was treating civilians in Afghanistan's northern Paktika province Wednesday when Taliban insurgents launched a rocket ambush on his team, killing him and another sailor and injuring seven others.

He is the Hemet area's 12th fallen son since the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks. According to what Retmier's family was told, he is California's 500th war casualty from the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The San Jacinto Valley is among the areas that have suffered the highest concentrations of military casualties in the conflicts.

Marc Retmier spent his life like most of his friends, riding skateboards and doing high-flying motocross stunts in the hills of Beaumont and Lake Elsinore. He had played with army toys as a child.

A star safety on the West Valley High School football team, he also had lettered in swimming as a freshman. He attended Hemet High and graduated from Alessandro High School in Hemet.

He was the eldest of three brothers, ahead of Matthew, 17, and Mason, 11.

"He was one of the most popular kids in town," said Dale Powers, the grandfather whom Marc Retmier called "Papa." "He's going to be missed by a lot of people."

Retmier's MySpace profile is filled with tributes left by friends. Retmier's personal message read, "This is gonna be one crazy summer," and he posted photos of his tour in Afghanistan.

After graduating from high school, Retmier enlisted in the Navy. He attended training at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune, N.C. and worked in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., before volunteering for a tour, either in Iraq or Afghanistan. His dream was to become a doctor eventually, his mother said.

When a Marine deployment to Iraq was canceled, Retmier volunteered for one to Afghanistan to provide medical services for Marines there.

During his final mission, Retmier's unit was working in an Afghan village when it was fired upon by 10 Chinese-made rockets. Retmier and Petty Officer 1st Class Ross L. Tolles III, 37, of Michigan, died at the scene.

"He's so dynamic, I didn't think he could die, even in the danger zone," said his grandfather, falling to his knees and sobbing. "When I got the call, I hoped he might be injured and might come home alive. But it wasn't to be ... it wasn't to be."

The Retmiers think Hemet has had so many war casualties because young people there often drift to the military.

Steven Retmier, Marc's father, said the lack of job opportunities and activities makes the region an easy target for military recruiters.

"There's nothing else for these kids to do," he said. "There's no future here for them."

Marc Retmier told his grandfather "he needed combat experience" and was planning to apply for another tour so he could be stationed closer to home when he returned.

His mother tried to talk him out of going overseas, but Retmier spent extra hours training with Navy SEALs. At night in Afghanistan, he was completing community college courses online.

Retmier exchanged e-mails and phone calls with his family and said he loved what he was doing, but they sensed the war was beginning to wear on him. When his convoy delivered candy and coloring books to Afghan children, they often would throw rocks at the Humvees as they drove away.

"He felt like they were wasting their time there," his mother said. "He was worried they didn't want us there at all."

His family has mixed feelings about the war. While they feel U.S. troops need to be fighting their mission, they say it's frustrating to see so many lives lost.

"I don't think we're making any progress," Joy Retmier said.

"These insurgents don't care about human life," added Steven Retmier. "But when it's this personal, it's impossible to be objective."

On Friday, the family was overwhelmed with support from friends and relatives, who shared stories of watching Marc grow up in Hemet.

Retmier's body is scheduled to arrive at March Air Reserve Base next week. After a funeral in Corona del Mar, he will be buried beside his uncle, who died of natural causes at age 19 while serving in the Navy in 1975.

"He's a hero," Dale Powers said. "He lived like a born warrior. I'm sure some people are born to be warriors."

Navy Hospitalman Marc A. Retmier was killed in action on 6/18/08.

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