Thursday, July 22, 2010

Marine Maj. James M. Weis

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Maj. James M. Weis, 37, of Toms River, N.J.

Maj. Weis was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died July 22, 2010 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while supporting combat operations. Also killed was Lt. Col. Mario D. Carazo.

TOMS RIVER — A 37-year-old Marine pilot from Toms River who trained at a "Top Gun" school for aviators and was on track to becoming a commanding officer was killed last week in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon and a fellow serviceman.
Maj. James M. Weis, a decorated 16-year veteran, died Thursday along with Lt. Col. Mario D. Carazo, 41, of Springfield, Ohio. According to news reports, their Cobra helicopter crashed during combat operations in Helmand province. Both officers were assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 39 based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

A Marine Corps spokesman, Cpl. Michael Stevens, said he could not comment on the nature of the incident.

Joel Van Brunt, a Marine major who served with Weis in California in the same squadron from 2001 to about 2004, described the New Jersey native as "a step ahead of his peer group."

"He was one of those people who treated newcomers with the respect and dignity that really set him aside," said Brunt, who now is in the Marine Reserves and an advisor to Massachusetts congressional candidate Sean Bielat. "He always treated you as a Marine, as a man and as a professional, and made sure you were put in the right direction and gaining the support you needed from the unit."

Brunt said he last spoke to Weis last year when Weis was getting a refresher course in piloting before deploying to Afghanistan. His plan, as Brunt recalled, was to finish the deployment and prepare to become a commanding officer, which entailed a promotion to lieutenant colonel.

"I would've been shocked if he wasn't a commanding officer in the next two to three years," he said. "I certainly would have served under him if I had that opportunity."

Weis joined the Marines in 1994 and was commissioned on March 23, 1996, according to Stevens, the spokesman. He was part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and served at least two more tours as an aviator in the Middle East, Brunt said. He was one of the youngest of his peers to take the Weapons and Tactics Instructor training — a "Top Gun"-like class for Marine aviators, according to Brunt.

Major Weis leaves behind a wife and two young sons, Brunt said. He is the 101st serviceman from New Jersey to die in combat during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to the Defense Department, and the third from Toms River.

Pfc. Vincent M. Frassetto and Cpl. Thomas E. Saba were the two other Toms River residents killed. Frassetto, 21, was killed while conducting combat operations in Anbar Province in Iraq on Sept. 7, 2006. Saba, 30, died on Feb. 7, 2007, after the helicopter he was piloting was shot down while flying in Anbar Province as well.

Two hundred sixty U.S. soldiers have been killed in combat this year in Afghanistan and 1,189 since the war began in October 2001, according to the Pentagon.

"Anytime something like this happens, it's a real tragedy," said Toms River Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher, a former Marine who did not know Weis. "It just proves what a dangerous situation our Marines, and all our service people, are in."

Maj. James M. Weis was the recipient of a Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, two Air Medals for Individual Action, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, an Air Medal-strike/flight, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, four Iraq Campaign Medals, four Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, two Navy Meritorious Unit Commendations, a Presidential Unit Citation-Navy, and a letter of appreciation.
(Source: U.S. Marine Corps spokesman Cpl. Michael Stevens )

Mother of fallen Toms River Marine said son 'died a hero'

Anne Weis said her son, Maj. James Matthew Weis, knew the risks of flying a Marine Corps helicopter in combat. She, too, was aware of the danger.

So, the former Toms River resident said, she is at peace with her son’s death in Afghanistan last week because he died doing what he loved, for the country he loved.

"My son signed up for this. He knew the risk," Weis, 66, said today from her home in Homestead, Fla. "Everyone in the military knows the risk. Life is a risk, but we just have to keep the faith."

Maj. Weis, 37, a highly decorated pilot and 16-year Marine Corps veteran, was one of two Marine officers killed in combat last Thursday in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold that has been the scene of some of the war’s fiercest fighting.

Matthew (often known by his middle name) Weis, a married father of two who grew up in Toms River and graduated from Rutgers University, is at least the 23rd service member with ties to New Jersey to die in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001. Nearly 100 others have died in Iraq since the invasion of 2003.

"When he was in college all he wanted to do was fly," Anne Weis said of her son, who joined the Marines in December 1994. "I’m purely comfortable with this because my son died a hero for his country. My husband and I couldn’t be prouder."

Weis comes from a military family. His father, Paul, a retired dentist, is an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War. His brother, Maj. William Scott Weis, is a Marine Corps artillery officer now serving as a recruiting commander in Florida.

Anne Weis, who moved to Florida from Toms River several years ago, said she was told by the military her son was responding to a call for air support by Marines who had been pinned down by Taliban fighters. When her son arrived at the scene, she said, his Cobra helicopter was hit by four surface-to-air-missiles fired simultaneously, a tactic of the Taliban, she said.

"They get the ground troops to call in for help, they hide somewhere, and hit their target," she said, adding that her son served two tours in Iraq before being deployed to Afghanistan. "This is a nasty war. This is worse than Iraq."

Anne Weis said her son had also taught at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va., which is also home to Marine Corps University. He is survived by his wife, Mae, and two sons, ages 5 and 7, of Oceanside, Calif.

In Toms River, residents of the neighborhood where James Weis grew up were stunned by the news.

"Oh, how sad," said Mary Suchocki, a former neighbor on Bent Hook Road.

Suchocki said that when the family moved to Florida in 2001, she bought several military posters that had hung in the Weis boys’ rooms. Suchocki said they were gifts for her own son.

Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher, a former U.S. Marine, said he didn’t know the family but understands their pain.

"I always felt a bond with those guys (Marines). They’re all such a good bunch of guys. It proves that whatever rank you are, you’re not immune from casualties."

Maj. Weis was hoping to be promoted to lieutenant colonel and become a commanding officer after returning from his most recent deployment, according to a Marine who served with him.

His mother said Weis' older brother, William Scott Weis, also a Marine major, is in Dover, Del. preparing to escort the body to California, possibly by Wednesday. While James Weis, his wife, Mae, and his two young sons lived in Oceanside, Ca., his family is considering burying him near a San Diego harbor overlooking where the Navy ships come in, according to his mother. The funeral will likely be on Monday, she said.

Weis' wife and brother could not be reached.

Marine Maj. James M. Weis was killed in action on 7/22/10.

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