Monday, October 26, 2009

Marine Cpl. Gregory M.W. Fleury

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Cpl. Gregory M.W. Fleury, 23, of Anchorage, Alaska

Cpl. Fleury was assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died Oct. 26, 2009 in a collision between a UH-1 and an AH-1 helicopter in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Also killed were Capt. Eric A. Jones, Capt. David S. Mitchell and Capt. Kyle R. Van De Giesen.

Anchorage Marine dies in Afghan helicopter crash
CREW CHIEF: Accident is just weeks before third tour was up.


A Marine from Anchorage and three others, all in the final weeks of their deployment, died Monday in the Afghanistan province of Helmand when two helicopters collided before sunrise.

Marine Corps Cpl. Gregory Fleury was crew chief aboard a UH-1 Huey that collided midair with an AH-1 Cobra in the predawn dark, according to the Department of Defense.

"It was hard to accept," said his grandfather, Albert Fleury, who lives in Anchorage. "We hoped against all hope that it wasn't true."

The 23-year-old Service High School graduate already had served two tours of duty in Iraq as a gunner and mechanic aboard combat helicopters before being shipped to Afghanistan, his family said.

"Because of this flare-up in Afghanistan, he accepted that," his grandfather said. "We had to respect his willingness to serve and complete this mission. Some people would have tried to demand that they be let out, that they've already served. But he accepted the extra challenge and responsibility, which is typical of him."

Also killed in the crash were the pilot of the Huey and two co-pilots aboard the Cobra, according to the Department of Defense. All were based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., and with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which is on the tail end of its deployment, said Maj. William Allen, commander of Marine forces in Alaska. Some members of the unit are already back in California, he said.

Fleury enlisted in the Marines on June 6, 2005, and was awarded several medals, including the Iraqi Campaign Medal and Good Conduct Medal, said Cpl. Derek Carlson, a spokesman for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

His grandfather said Fleury, who was born in Sitka, got interested in being a Marine in high school, when he joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

"He said that was what he wanted to do when he got out of school was go into the Marine Corps and serve his country," the elder Fleury said. "We encouraged him because the military service is a good training and learning ground for young adult people. It gives them direction and something to give their daily life some meaning."

But lately Fleury was thinking about getting out and going back to school, maybe to work on computers, according to his family. His grandfather said he was scheduled to get off of active duty after four years this past June, but that the government extended his service for the deployment.

Allen said Marine records indicated Fleury was on active duty until 2012. The discrepancy could not be resolved Tuesday.

Service High principal Lou Pondolfino said Fleury, who graduated in 2005, was in the orchestra and the Navy JROTC for four years. Teachers who remembered him thought of him as a good kid who tried hard and found a purpose as a cadet in the ROTC, Pondolfino said.

"When he decided to join the Marines, a recruiter took him away one weekend to make up all his work that he hadn't turned in, even though it wouldn't be counted," he said, quoting the teacher. "But he came back and was real proud of himself that he accomplished the task."

Fleury is the second Service High graduate to die in Iraq or Afghanistan in the line of duty, Pondolfino said. In 2005 Lance Cpl. Grant Fraser was killed in western Iraq when a roadside bomb tore through the amphibious, lightly armored transport vehicle he was in.

Next month the high school will rename its theater the Grant Fraser Memorial Auditorium in honor of Fraser, who graduated in 2001 and was active in the school's drama department, Pondolfino said.

What caused the collision that killed Fleury remained under investigation; it was not clear whether the choppers were engaged in combat or another mission when they collided in the dark.

"There is an investigating crew over there with 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade that will be looking into the circumstances to determine the cause of the crash," Allen said. "From the initial casualty report, they weren't able to rule out whether there was enemy contact at the time."

Another helicopter crashed as it left the scene of a gunbattle with insurgents in western Afghanistan Monday, killing seven soldiers and three Drug Enforcement Administration agents and marking the biggest loss of American life on a single day in four years. October has been the deadliest month to date in Afghanistan, with at least 55 Americans killed.

Allen said Fleury's remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base Tuesday and will likely arrive in Anchorage Monday. Gov. Sean Parnell ordered state flags to be lowered to half-staff Thursday in Fleury's honor.

He will be buried at the national cemetery on Fort Richardson next weekend, his grandfather said.

"Being a hero and a person that served admirably for his country, that would be a great place," Fleury said.

Marine Cpl. Gregory M.W. Fleury was killed in action on 10/26/09.

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