Monday, August 29, 2005

Army Chief Warrant Officer Dennis P. Hay

Remember Our Heroes

Army Chief Warrant Officer Dennis P. Hay, 32, of Valdosta, Georgia.

CWO Hay died in Tal Afar, Iraq, when his OH-58D Kiowa helicopter came under attack by enemy forces using small arms fire. He was assigned to the 4th Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colorado.

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Chief Warrant Officer Dennis Hay always cranked down the knob that increased tension on the helicopter controls.

It made the OH-58 heavier to fly, an upper-body workout for pilots pulling against the spring tension. His co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Gabriel Torney, complained about the arm-straining adjustment. But Hay, nicknamed “Shooter,” always said that extra tension would buy precious seconds in an emergency.

That’s exactly what happened, Torney said Wednesday. His voice quaked at times as he spoke at a memorial service for Hay and three other soldiers from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

“He did this every time he flew and that selfless act is why I’m here today,” Torney said inside Soldiers’ Memorial Chapel at Fort Carson.

It was just after sunset on Aug. 29 when machine-gun fire stitched its way through the low-flying observation chopper over Tal Afar, Iraq.

Hay, who was at the controls, was fatally wounded.

The helicopter pitched up, but didn’t go out of control — that extra spring tension held it in check. Torney, injured by a bullet that tore through his right leg and lodged in his left thigh, had just enough time to grab the controls.

Bleeding badly, Torney wrestled the helicopter to the ground outside town and was rescued by comrades. Hay, a married father of two who left the Air Force to fly Army helicopters, died at a hospital.

Torney said he says a prayer every night now for Hay.

But prayer isn’t enough.

“You continue to teach the things that he taught me,” Torney said after the service. “That’s how you keep his memory alive.”

Army Chief Warrant Officer Dennis P. Hay was killed in action on 08/29/05.

Army 2nd Lt. Charles R. Rubado

Remember Our Heroes

Army 2nd Lt. Charles R. Rubado, 23, of Clearwater, Florida.

2nd Lt. Rubado died in Tal Afar, Iraq, when his M1A2 Abrams tank came under attack by enemy forces using small arms fire. He was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colorado.

CLEARWATER - As soon as she saw the soldiers at her door at 9:30 p.m. Monday, Nitaya Rubado knew she had lost her son.
``I saw two military men come, and I just got the bad feeling,'' Rubado, 59, said. ``I didn't want it to be the truth.''

Her husband, Charles, 61, was in bed, but when she shouted for him and he looked out and saw the men, he knew, too, he said.

Wednesday morning they looked through a cache of photographs of their son, 2nd Lt. Charles Robert Rubado, 23, who was killed by a sniper while on patrol with his unit, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, in Iraq on Aug. 29.

Their son was scheduled to come home for two weeks in September.

``He was pretty tired,'' Charles Rubado said. ``They were working hard.''

The pain of Monday evening's news was raw, and the Rubados' voices broke often as they spoke of their younger son.

``He just wanted to follow his dad's footsteps and his brother's,'' Nitaya Rubado said.

Their second son practically was born into the military - at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, Hawaii, where his father, who retired as an Army first sergeant, was stationed.

His brother, Steven, 32, was the first to follow their father's example. He enlisted in the Army. A missionary in India, he was on his way to Clearwater on Wednesday.

When young Charles Rubado enrolled at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, he joined the Army ROTC.

During his senior year at Florida Southern, Rubado married his college sweetheart, the former Mary-Anne Hollingsworth, who earned a degree in education. They married in December 2003.

He graduated with a degree in criminal justice - and an ROTC commission as an Army officer - in May 2004. His first assignment was to Fort Carson, Colo. His unit was deployed to Iraq in March.

The news of Rubado's death was a blow to his friends at Florida Southern.

The college held a memorial ceremony for Rubado late Wednesday. Tributes included a wreath placed in front of a marker that honors Florida Southern graduates who were killed in World War II.

``It's ... taken everybody by shock,'' said Shari Szabo, director of alumni relations for the 1,800-student, United Methodist Church-affiliated college in Lakeland.

Szabo said she was told Rubado was leading a dangerous mission in Iraq to help another unit when he looked out from a tank and was shot by a sniper.

The couple were strong Christians, Szabo said, and his wife wrote in the spring to her sorority, Zeta Tau Alpha, that he was the love of her life:

``Always keep our overseas troops in your prayers,'' she wrote.

Mary-Anne Rubado taught at Eagle Lake Elementary School before leaving for Colorado when her husband's Army career began after his graduation.

``I miss him so much,'' she wrote to her sorority in the spring for a reunion book.

Florida Southern ROTC cadet David White, a senior, said Rubado was a role model for younger cadets.

``If we were doing something, he would do it right alongside of us,'' he said. ``I remember on a field training exercise, I had an accidental discharge of my weapon. It was a blank, right at his face.

``Instead of jumping on me like most, he took me aside and said, `Hey, White. That's not how we do it.' He was definitely a good guy.''

Charles Rubado said his son was a proud military man. ``He loved the Army, and he loved the [3rd] Cavalry,'' his father said.

``I do wish he hadn't gone to Iraq,'' his father said. ``But I'm also very proud of him. He was a soldier, and he chose to be one, and he cared very much about his country.''

Nitaya Rubado said it has been rough for them. ``We can't sleep still. ... I couldn't eat. God, it's so hard. I don't know how I`m going to go on without him.''

Army 2nd Lt. Charles R. Rubado was killed in action on 08/29/05.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Army Specialist Joseph L. Martinez

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Joseph L. Martinez, 21, of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Spc Martinez died in Tal Afar, Iraq, when his dismounted patrol was engaged by enemy forces using small arms fire. He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colorado.

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Before going to Iraq, Army Spc. Joseph L. Martinez told his family and friends in southern Nevada that he wanted to protect his country and would take a bullet if he had to.

"He told them and me, 'I will die before you die,'" said his girlfriend, Toni Williams, 20.

Joseph Martinez, 21, was killed in combat Saturday in the northwestern Iraqi city of Tal Afar.

"It was his duty to make that ultimate sacrifice," said his mother, Cynthia Martinez, calling her son a quiet individual with rare courage and determination. "We all knew it was pretty much his destiny."

Cynthia Martinez told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Wednesday report that her son died protecting his buddies. She said crying and tears were not her son's style.

"He was willing to die for his country," said his father, Larry Martinez. "It just happened so quick."

Joseph Martinez, a 2002 graduate of Durango High School in Las Vegas, was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fort Carson, Colo.

The Defense Department listed him as an Army specialist, but family members said Army officials told them he had been promoted to corporal days before he died.

Cynthia Martinez, a former food and beverage cashier at the Riviera hotel-casino, said her son always wanted to be a soldier.

His father, Larry Martinez, said his son was proud to serve in Air Force Junior ROTC at Durango High, where he also was on the school swim team. But he was determined to go into the Army.

Joseph Martinez was on his second tour of duty as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and felt good to be helping Iraqi people on the path to democracy, his family said. He spoke with his mother by telephone on Thursday, and had been scheduled to return home for two weeks in November.

"He was in good spirits. I'm really grateful that I was able to tell him I loved him. And he said, 'I love you too, Mom.'"

Cynthia Martinez said the family was proud of her son's accomplishments.

"If there's one thing I'd like to say, it's support our troops," she said. "I can't say that enough. It means so much to them out there in the field."

Williams said Joe Martinez didn't hesitate to enlist before graduating from high school.

"He would go to school with his Ranger shirt on," she said. "He wanted to fight. I think we can be proud of him because that's what he wanted to do."

Joseph Larry Martinez, one of three brothers, was born Dec. 10, 1983, in La Mirada, Calif. The family moved to the Las Vegas area in 1997.

Army Specialist Joseph L. Martinez was killed in action on 08/27/05.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Army Staff Sgt. Damion G. Campbell

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Damion G. Campbell, 23, of Baltimore

SSgt Campbell was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, Vicenza, Italy; killed Aug. 26, 2005 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during a combat patrol in Khayr Kot, Afghanistan.

Baltimore soldier killed in Afghanistan

They traveled the same path, went to the same high school, participated in JROTC, enlisted in the Army and within two weeks became Baltimore’s latest casualties of war.

Staff Sgt. Damion Garland Campbell, 23, of Baltimore, was killed in Khayr Kot, Afghanistan, when a bomb exploded near his vehicle during combat patrol.

Campbell graduated from Forest Park High School in 2000, as did Army Spc. Toccara Green, 23, of Rosedale, who was killed Aug. 14 in Iraq.

They were described as leaders, outgoing, fun-loving and competitive by those who knew them.

Loretta Breese, Forest Park High School principal, was at the school Sunday evening getting ready for the first day of classes when she got a call from her sister-in-law telling her she lost another student.

“I just went limp. I just could not believe this,” said Breese, who has been the principal for 12 years and remembers both students very well. “I became really emotionally ill. I said to myself I really didn’t want to start the school year like this.

“They were leaders, who were able to take risks and meet the challenges,” she said.

Though both followed a similar path, Breese said they were both two different people.

“Toccara was very aggressive and outgoing,” she said. “Damion was very mild-tempered and sophisticated.”

Col. Franklin W. Collins, retired JROTC instructor at Forest Park High School, said Campbell and Green died doing what they always wanted to do.

“It’s devastating. They were two of the nicest and most competitive students I’ve ever gotten to know,” said Collins, who taught both for four years. “You pray that nothing happens to anyone in the war, but it’s only when it hits home when we see the true face of the war up close and personal.”

He remembers both as being popular and well-respected.

“As they became the senior leaders, they became role models and helped lead other youngsters,” said Collins, who spoke at Green’s funeral and plans to attend Campbell’s. “I hope this is the last one. You don’t expect to outlive these youngsters.”

Campbell was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, in Vicenza, Italy.

He was born in Jamaica, his mother, Donna Robinson said. He was in the Boy Scouts and later joined JROTC in high school.

“The Army was his passion. It was all he wanted to do,” she said. “He was outgoing, fun-loving and joyful person.”

Campbell had not been home for nearly a year. He was planning to go to Jamaica for a couple of weeks in August, but it didn’t work out, according to his mother.

She said her last time communicating with her son was by e-mail the day before his death. His 11-year-old brother, Nicholas, wanted a video game console, and Damion sent him $100 to get the popular hand held video game system.

His father, Yandell Campbell, works as a police officer in Jamaica, said his aunt Barbara Robinson-Dawkins, aunt.

Campbell’s family in Baltimore learned of his death Friday from his father, who was contacted by the Army, according to family members. They contacted Campbell’s girlfriend, Viola, in Germany on Sunday. His mother said they met while he was doing training and were once engaged.

“I have no bad feelings about the army,” said his mother. “He was happy, very energetic and just enjoyed life. My child loved the Army.”

Army Staff Sgt. Damion G. Campbell was killed in action on 8/26/05.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Marine 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey

Remember Our Heroes

Marine 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey, 24, of Reno, Nevada.

2nd Lt. Cathey died of injuries caused by an improvised explosive device while conducting combat operations near Al Karmah, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

More than 200 people, including Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., and state Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Nev., honored Marine Corps 2nd Lt. James Cathey, 24, during an emotional funeral Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno.

The Reno native was killed by an explosive device Aug. 21 after only one month in Iraq. His unit was operating and training with Iraqi security forces near Al Karmah and Fallujah.

“James was a young man who was living his dream, serving as a Marine,” the Rev. Tom Czack said. “He was a kind, giving man who was serving his country.

“For those who are peacemakers, they’ll be the children of God. In this time of trial let us stand in faith,” Czack added.

The service began with a procession of Marines who carried the casket to the front of the altar, with family members trailing behind.

In a brief address, his mother, Carolyn Cathey, described the lieutenant as a “humble, selfless romantic.”

“He had a smile that would light up a room. He had those blue eyes that could talk without saying a word,” she said. “His life was short, but he accomplished a lot. Maybe we should all strive to be a little like James.”

His wife, Katherine Cathey, found out that her child, due in five months, would be the boy that her husband knew it would be.

James Cathey was a graduate of Reno High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Marine 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey was killed in action on 08/21/05.

Todd Heisler The Rocky Mountain News

When 2nd Lt. James Cathey's body arrived at the Reno Airport, Marines climbed into the cargo hold of the plane and draped the flag over his casket as passengers watched the family gather on the tarmac. During the arrival of another Marine's casket last year at Denver International Airport, Major Steve Beck described the scene as one of the most powerful in the process: "See the people in the windows? They'll sit right there in the plane, watching those Marines. You gotta wonder what's going through their minds, knowing that they're on the plane that brought him home," he said. "They're going to remember being on that plane for the rest of their lives. They're going to remember bringing that Marine home. And they should."

Cathey Coffin

Todd Heisler The Rocky Mountain News

The night before the burial of her husband's body, Katherine Cathey refused to leave the casket, asking to sleep next to his body for the last time. The Marines made a bed for her, tucking in the sheets below the flag. Before she fell asleep, she opened her laptop computer and played songs that reminded her of 'Cat,' and one of the Marines asked if she wanted them to continue standing watch as she slept. "I think it would be kind of nice if you kept doing it," she said. "I think that's what he would have wanted."

Mrs Cathey

"In two pictures of 24 year old 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey's final trip home...Todd Heisler, Rocky Mountain News photographer, captured the solemnity, brotherly respect as well as the sorrow over the death of one of America's youthful fallen Marine Heroes. In Heisler's heartbreakingly sweet image of a pregnant Katherine Cathey "sleeping for one last time" beside her husband's coffin, ... while playing the couple's favorite tunes on her CD, .... he brought forth for all time, a searing picture of the awful pain of loss."

Fay Jordaens...A Soldiers' Angel.

James Cathey Jr

Larger Images

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Army Sgt. Willard "Todd" Partridge

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Willard "Todd" Partridge, 35, of Ferriday, Louisiana.

Sgt Partridge died in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was assigned to the 170th Military Police Company, 504th Military Police Battalion, 42nd Military Police Brigade, Fort Lewis, Washington.

A baseball player and family man, Fort Lewis soldier lives on through his legacy

Associated Press

Despite their six-year age difference, Willard T. Partridge and his sister remained close.

“A lot of times growing up, it kind of felt like he was my son,” she said Darlene Moon, 41.

Moon said she and her brother enjoyed hunting and fishing together. Partridge, 35, of Ferriday, La., was killed Aug. 20 in Baghdad by a roadside bomb.

He was based at Fort Lewis, Wash. Partridge was a 1988 high school graduate who advanced to regional and state championships in baseball, showing talent as a pitcher. He trained in refrigeration and welding at Copiah-Lincoln Community College. When the rubber company he worked for closed in September 2002, he joined the Army. Partridge’s cousin, Shelley Poole said she’ll especially miss the big hugs he gave her every time they met.

“He always has a smile on his face,” she said. “The emotions run real high and then drop real low reminiscing about him.”

He is survived by his wife, Rhonda, and two daughters: Kelsee, 11, and Kymberlee, 9.

“We can always remember the good things,” said friend Michael Williams.

“I can’t remember a bad one.”

Army Sgt. Willard "Todd" Partridge was killed in action on 08/20/05.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Army Sgt Michael J. Stokely

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt Michael J. Stokely, 23, of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sgt Stokely died in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his dismounted patrol. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment, 48th Brigade Combat Team, Griffin, Georgia.

Robert Stokely told his son, Michael, to ask himself two questions before joining the Georgia Army National Guard.

“Are you prepared to kill?” the father recalled Wednesday. “And are you prepared to be killed?”

Michael Stokely, 23, was killed after stepping on an explosive device a few miles south of Baghdad.

That was in 2000, when the Loganville High School student on the verge of 18 was considering the military.

Michael Stokely joined the guard and in May went to Kuwait on his way to Iraq. Tuesday morning, Stokely’s family learned the 23-year-old was killed after stepping on an explosive device a few miles south of Baghdad.

He was one of four Georgia soldiers in the guard’s 48th Brigade Combat Team to die this week in Iraq.

Three others were killed Monday when their vehicle overturned into a canal during combat operations. Sgt. Thomas Strickland, 27, of Douglasville; Spc. Joshua Dingler, 19, of Hiram; and Sgt. Paul Saylor, 21, of Bremen were assigned to 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment at the time of their deaths.

Stokely’s death brought to 16 the number of fatalities suffered by the 48th since it arrived in Iraq in early June; 15 of them since July 24.

Spc. Michael Stokely was awarded a posthumous promotion to sergeant, according to Ron Morton, an Army spokesman.

“He was just an awesome guy,” said his mother, Melissa Gardner, who lives in Oxford with Stokely’s stepfather, William Gardner.

Robert Stokely, the Coweta County solicitor, described his son as “soft-spoken and quiet but talkative — if that makes sense.

“I think popular would be an understatement,” he continued. “There are politicians who would pay good money to have his popularity.”

Michael Stokely played soccer in high school but his real interest was the military —“the structure, the camaraderie, the sense of purpose,” his father said.

“He wanted to serve,” Robert Stokely said.

During a 10-day leave in May, just a month after his final birthday, Stokely married his sweetheart since high school, the former Niki Yancey.

Melissa Gardner said her son had talked about joining the armed forces ever since middle school. His stepfather had been a Marine, and a grandfather and an uncle had served in the Air Force.

She last talked to her son Aug. 8 by phone.

“He wanted to know about friends, relatives and the weather.

“He would always say, ‘Mom, I’m fine. Everything’s fine,’ ” Gardner recalled.

Justin Oulton, Stokely’s best friend, laughed about how they met.

“Our first meeting started in a fight,” he said. The two were playing soccer and “he got frustrated and threw me down.”

But the anger didn’t last. “We just got it out of the way,” Oulton said.

Before Stokely’s marriage, he and Oulton shared a farmhouse in the Conyers area for about 18 months to save money. They worked at Hills Ace Hardware in Loganville and waited tables.

Oulton said Stokely was uncomplicated. He liked to play with his dogs, a pit bull and German shorthair pointer.

The two talked several times when Stokely was in Iraq. The young soldier described his duty as “hangin’ out in the desert.”

Oulton learned of his friend’s death Tuesday night. His parents made an excuse to come by and told him. His father had heard the news on the radio.

“I fell apart for a little while,” Oulton said.

Stokely had mentioned the possibility of dying while serving his country.

“He had said before, if he had to go, that was the way he would want to do it,” Oulton said. “He loved what he did. He thought he was doing a good thing over there.”

Army Sgt Michael J. Stokely was killed in action on 08/16/05.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Army Sgt. Paul A. Saylor

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Paul A. Saylor, 21, of Bremen, Georgia.

Sgt Saylor died in Al Mahmudiyah, Iraq, when his HMMWV accidentally rolled over into a canal. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment, Calhoun, Georgia.

The Saylors didn’t want to speak publicly Tuesday. They released a statement through a family friend, Louanne Hutcheson, thanking people for “the hundreds of expressions of sympathy” they had received.

Sgt. Joseph Brown, a member of Saylor’s platoon, said he was like their official photographer. “He must have a thousand pictures of us on his laptop,” said Brown, who is at home in Paulding County recovering from an injury he received in Iraq. “He would create these little slide shows and put music to them.”

Saylor also had a little velveteen bag with a collection of items that he kept secret, Brown said. “Before we’d go out [on a mission] he made us all rub that little bag, for luck.”

Paul A. Saylor made quite an impression in a seventh-grade production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Saylor played Mortimer Brewster, the part played by Cary Grant in the 1944 movie.

“He wasn’t as good as Cary Grant, but he still had a little bit of that air about him,” said Jan Cain, Saylor’s former teacher.

“He was more handsome than Cary Grant, too.”

Saylor, 21, of Norcross, Ga., died Aug. 15 in Mahmudiyah when his vehicle rolled over into a canal. He was assigned to Calhoun.

A 2002 high school graduate, he attended North Georgia College and State University, a military college. He was a starter on the football team, acted in school plays and was voted “best personality” in the senior class.

“He will be missed by all who knew him. He was friendly, goodhearted, very dedicated, hardworking. His smile would light up a room,” said Bremen City Schools Superintendent Stanley McCain.

He is survived by his parents, Jamie and Patti.

“Were going to miss him,” said his former principal, Duane McManus.

“Were going to miss that upbeat personality, that smile.”

Army Sgt. Paul A. Saylor was killed in action on 08/15/05.

Army Specialist Joshua P. Dingler

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Joshua P. Dingler, 19, of Hiram, Georgia.

Spc Dingler died in Al Mahmudiyah, Iraq, when his HMMWV accidentally rolled over into a canal. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment, Calhoun, Georgia.

Karen Dingler sat on the edge of her son’s bed and hugged his dress green uniform to her chest. She buried her nose in it, breathing in hard.

“I’m so glad it smells like him,” she said Tuesday.

She had kept the uniform tucked away in his closet at their Paulding County home since he left for Iraq. She pulled it out this week and gently placed it on his bed. She figured the military would need it to bury her son, Spc. Joshua Dingler.

A military chaplain and a captain had visited her home Monday. They told her Joshua and two other soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment died in an accident early that day. A military press release said their vehicle overturned into a canal during a night mission.

Joshua Dingler, 19, of Hiram was fresh out of East Paulding High School. He died on the second anniversary of his enlistment. Two of his friends died beside him: Sgt. Thomas J. Strickland, 27, of Fairplay in Douglas County and Spc. Paul Saylor, 21, of Bremen, near the Alabama state line.

Karen Dingler, who was just starting as the unit’s family support group leader, was on the phone seeking advice on how to help families who lose loved ones in Iraq when the chaplain and casualty notification officer showed up.

“It turned out to be mine,” she said. “I just opened the door and swallowed hard.”

Dingler knew why the soldiers were there. She remembers repeating to herself, “I can do this,” as she let them into her home. They asked her where her husband, Tommy, was. He was at the gas station, so they waited to tell her why they were there, making small talk until he returned.

“I could feel the pain in those poor guys’ faces,” she said. “I was trying to be nice. I knew what they wanted.”

The military told her she could keep her son’s uniform. They would bury him in a new one.

Karen and her husband talked proudly about their son Tuesday as they sat in his tidy bedroom.

Several eagle figurines sat atop his chest of drawers. A poster of Osama bin Laden with a red target on his chest hung on his wall.

Joshua’s 16-year-old brother, Samuel, lay on his bed, sobbing.

On the door to Joshua’s closet is a picture of him and his high school sweetheart, Katelyn Wood, taken when they attended a military ball. She wore a black gown; he was in his ROTC dress uniform. It was their first date.

Before leaving for Iraq, he had asked her father for his blessing to marry her. He planned to go to Kennesaw State University, study history and then teach it in high school.

Tony Samples, Pickett’s Mill pastor, said to the hundreds of people gathered in the crowded church, “You have come to honor a fallen soldier, but Josh died doing what he loved to do.”

Samples told of Josh’s commitment to Christ and presented a video of Josh giving a FAITH testimony to the congregation at Picketts Mill. In the video Dingler testified, “I used my FAITH training to talk to one of my friends and led him to the Lord last night.”

One of the most touching moments of the service was when Samples read part of a letter Josh had given him to read to his fiancé, Katelyn Wood, in case he did not return from Iraq.

“If you are reading this, I haven’t made it home to you. Please don’t let my passing be the end of your life, too. Grief is fine, just don’t let it rule your life. That would be the real tragedy. You are a wonderful woman and God has something amazing planned for you. Just trust Him and your family and you’ll get through.”

Joshua Dingler believed he was fighting for a just cause and gave his life to preserve our freedom. At the funeral Pastor Samples reminded all of us of the words of Jesus when he said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” That is what Joshua Dingler did, and he will not soon be forgotten.

Katelyn held a “just in case” letter he had written her on notebook paper. She couldn’t force herself to open it. But she peeked at the closing sentence: “Yours to the very end.”

Army Specialist Joshua P. Dingler was killed in action on 08/15/05.

Army Sgt. Thomas J. Strickland

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Thomas J. Strickland, 27, of Douglasville, Georgia.

Sgt Strickland died in Al Mahmudiyah, Iraq, when his HMMWV accidentally rolled over into a canal. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment, Calhoun, Georgia.

Strickland was a project manager at Son Electrical Contractors in Winston. He had been in the Guard for six years. He graduated from Alexander High School, where he was president of the drafting club, and later earned a bachelor’s degree in English from University of West Georgia.

Greg Stanford, a minister at Dorsett Shoals Baptist Church, remembered Strickland as a well-rounded, likable man who loved to meet people and enjoyed mission work including trips to Bosnia and the Philippines.

“He just loved to work with people who were just a little less fortunate than most of us are,” Stanford said. “I could have very easily seen Thomas in the ministry somewhere.”

Strickland’s parents, Patti and Ronnie, didn’t want to give interviews Tuesday. They released a statement saying their son saw his deployment to Iraq as an opportunity to fight terrorism. They asked people to pray for the troops in Iraq and their families.

August 26, 2005
The poet has checked out. Thomas Strickland died on August 15, 2005, in Al Mahmudiyah, Iraq, after several harrowing ordeals. He left behind his journal and numerous war poems, such as "Cheers to suicide! So Where's my Martini?" and "Terrer be a Cancer Today", parts one and two. Could he be the Wilfred Owen of the Iraq War?

"Humanity, I think, is what fills the little gaps between all the broken shit, all the breaking, and all the plans, schematics, graphics and orders. Its the sand slipping out of grasping fingers. Its our instinct without progress as a motivator. It's who we are when we concentrate on being more than doing." (

Army Sgt. Thomas J. Strickland was killed in action on 08/15/05.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Army Staff Sgt. Asbury F. Hawn II

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Asbury F. Hawn II, 35, of Lebanon, Tennessee.

SSG Hawn died of injuries sustained on August 13, 2005, in Tuz, Iraq, while he was conducting a mounted patrol his HMMWV came under attack by enemy forces using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 3rd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, McMinnville, Tennessee.

Until his death, relatives of Asbury F. Hawn II knew nothing of the honors he had earned previously for bravery and dedication to duty. The Rev. Steve Marcum suggested another.

“If I could suggest one more medal for this brave man and dedicated husband, father, son and brother, it would be for humility,” Marcum said during Hawn’s funeral.

Hawn, 35, of Lebanon, Tenn., died Aug. 14 of wounds from an attack the previous day in Tuz. A 1988 high school graduate, he was based at McMinnville.

“He was always asking us to send crayons, coloring books and supplies for the Iraqi children who have never seen a crayon and most of whom live in huts,” said sister Faith Brownlow. “He was a patriot in the truest sense.”

Hawn joined the Army in 1993 and was deployed to Haiti on a peacekeeping mission before enlisting in the Army Guard in 1996. He had worked at Nissan for about five years when called to active duty last June.

“As a little boy, he wanted to be a soldier. As the baby brother of three older sisters, we spoiled him rotten,” said Brownlow.

He is survived by his wife, Angie, and sons Jonathan, 12, and Spencer, 4.






(Contributed by Asbury Hawn's parents)

Army Staff Sgt. Asbury F. Hawn II was killed in action on 08/14/05.

Army Specialist Gary L. Reese, Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Gary L. Reese, Jr., 22, of Ashland City, Tennessee.

Spc Reese died of injuries sustained on August 13, 2005, in Tuz, Iraq, while he was conducting a mounted patrol his HMMWV came under attack by enemy forces using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 3rd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, McMinnville, Tennessee.

Vehicles of all shapes and sizes lined Highway 12 Saturday morning between Boyd Funeral Home in Ashland City and the Tennessee National Guard Armory to honor a local soldier who died with two others after an attack in Iraq.

Sgt. Gary Reese Jr., of Ashland City, was killed Aug. 14 after a roadside explosive went off near the Humvee he was riding in. Spc. Kevin Downs, of Kingston Springs, was injured in the attack. He is recovering at a Fort Sam Houston hospital in San Antonio, Texas, with burns to 60 percent of his body. His legs were later amputated below the knee because of the severe trauma to his body.

On Saturday, Reese’s friends, family and complete strangers all stood arm to arm along Highway 12 to watch the hearse and police procession wind its way south of town to the armory.

“I didn’t know him,” said Ronnie Burns of Nashville. “When I came back from Vietnam, there were no parades. Many of us were spit on in airports and called names. Our dead weren’t treated any better. I’m glad to see all this support for this young man. Things have sure changed in 35 years.”

The hearse carrying Reese’s body was led by vehicles driven by local law enforcement officials, and the procession included various city, county and state police agencies.

At the armory, a ladder truck from the Ashland City Fire Department flew a large American flag - towering above the passing traffic.
Dr. Sam Creed gave the eulogy at Reese’s service and said the soldier had been a friend to many in the community - both while he attended Cheatham County High School and when he worked at a local food store bagging groceries.

Creed said Reese was a prankster and enjoyed hiding customer’s shopping carts or playing other jokes on them while at the store.
Outside the armory, mourners listened to Creed through a system of speakers.

“It’s great the way everybody turned out today for this,” said Emma Myers of Franklin, Tenn. “I’m just out here to support the family, the community and all our soldiers over in Iraq. I came to wave my flag and thank Sgt. Reese for his sacrifice.”

Army Specialist Gary L. Reese, Jr. was killed in action on 08/14/05.

Army Specialist Toccara R. Green

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Toccara R. Green, 23, of Rosedale, Maryland.

Spc Green died in Al Asad, Iraq, when multiple improvised explosive devices detonated near her unit during convoy operations. She was assigned to the 57th Transportation Company, 548th Corps Support Battalion, Fort Drum, New York.

Toccara Green lingered until after midnight that last Sunday in July, eating ribs and ice cream cake and mingling cheerfully with nearly 90 friends and relatives gathered at a backyard barbecue in her honor.

She posed for pictures with new baby cousins and older relatives she had not seen for years. She prayed with members of her church. The next Sunday, her two-week leave over, the 23-year-old Rosedale woman and Army specialist returned to Iraq for the final four months of her second tour of duty.

Yesterday, members of her family reconvened to mourn her death.

Green is the first military woman from Maryland, and the 26th service member from the state, to die in Iraq since U.S. forces invaded the country more than two years ago, according to announcements from the Pentagon.

As friends and family gathered, Green's parents received a phone call from a fellow soldier and friend of their daughter who was there when she died. Green was killed Sunday when explosives detonated near her supply convoy in Al Asad, in western Iraq.

Green, a motor and transport operator, was driving a Humvee behind Spc. Nicole Coleman, the soldier who called the Green family home yesterday. Between them were several trucks carrying supplies, Coleman said over a crackling connection. When the convoy stopped to refuel and switch drivers, they climbed out of the Humvees.

"The next thing you know, explosives went off," Coleman recalled in a soft and trembling voice. "I was getting ready to get back in when I saw the first one go off."

Coleman said she dropped to the ground, then jumped back into the Humvee when she heard the second explosion. Inside, she heard there were casualties but didn't know who.

The next time she left her vehicle, she said, she saw her friend lying in a pool of blood. She recognized her, Coleman said, by the scarf on her head. Someone was performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Green, Coleman said, but she was dead before the medevac unit arrived.

"I just started screaming," she said. "I never lost a best friend before."

The two met during basic training in 2003, Coleman said, and referred to themselves as "Batman and Robin" or "Pinky and the Brain."

Green had long wanted to join the Army, her family said, and spent four years in ROTC while attending Forest Park High School in Baltimore.

Her father, with whom she was close, wasn't comfortable with his only daughter joining the military, especially because her older brother had joined the Marines, the brother, Garry Green Jr., said yesterday.

So, after she graduated from high school in 2000, Green attended Norfolk State University in Virginia, where she studied telecommunications and broadcasting.

Her desire to join the Army never waned, and in January 2003, she enlisted, her brother said.

"She loved her country," he said. "She wanted to do something to help, not just sit around and talk about it."

When Green was 13, her father had begun to teach her about cars, and she loved to work on them, her brother said. So it was no surprise when she told her family that her Army job would be as a motor and transport operator.

She was assigned to the Army's 57th Transportation Company, 584th Corps Support Battalion, based at Fort Drum, N.Y.

She was sent to Iraq the first time in May 2003, her brother said, and stayed for about nine months. She returned to Iraq in February.

Garry Green Jr. said his sister was eager to finish her second tour and receive a new assignment. She was talking about re-enlisting during her last visit home.

"She wasn't exactly mad about going to Iraq," he said. "She's not the type to cry that 'I gotta do this' or 'I gotta do that.' She just wanted to get it done."

He described his sister as enthusiastic and outgoing, a natural leader who could motivate others easily.

Coleman described Green as a silly, witty and excitable confidante.

At her family's church, Victory Ministries International, Green worked with the children in the congregation and read announcements, said Lenora Howze, a family friend and associate pastor.

During her last visit home, Green went to a movie with her aunt, as she always did, and went roller skating, a favorite activity.

Her father, Garry Green Sr., watched videos yesterday of Green participating in ROTC drill competitions in high school. Her mother, Yvonne Green, said she couldn't bear to hear her daughter's voice and instead sought comfort in the photos taken on that overcast Sunday in July.

Her brother, too, reflected on the recent gathering.

"It was a perfect day," he said. The Greens said they are planning a local service in addition to a military funeral in Arlington, Va.

Army Specialist Toccara R. Green was killed in action on 08/14/05.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Army Specialist Brian K. Derks

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Brian K. Derks,21, of White Cloud, Michigan.

Spc Derks died in Baghdad, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on mounted patrol. He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Calvary Regiment, Fort Irwin, California.

Army Spc. Brian K. Derks was patrolling in Baghdad when he was fatally wounded, his parents said in a statement released through the Newaygo County Sheriff's Department.

Keith and Peggy Derks, who live in Wilcox Township, about 40 miles north of Grand Rapids, said the Army notified them of their son's death Saturday.

"We are all proud of Brian for his service to our country because it's been his dream," his family said in a statement.

In a news release issued Monday, the U.S. Department of Defense said Brian Derks was on mounted patrol Saturday when a homemade bomb exploded, killing him. He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Calvary Regiment at Fort Irwin, Calif.

Some family members gathered Sunday at Christ Lutheran Church near White Cloud for a news conference. Randy Derks, an uncle, spoke to reporters as an aunt held a picture of the fallen soldier.

"Brian is a hero to all who knew him," the uncle said. "We love him and will miss him."

Brian Derks joined the Army shortly after graduating from White Cloud High School in 2003, The Detroit News reported. He was a member of the school's football, baseball and quiz bowl teams.

He also was an Eagle Scout who went camping with the Boy Scouts while on leave from Iraq, Grand Rapids television station WZZM reported.

Ethan Ebenstein, superintendent of White Cloud Public Schools, recalled Derks as a strong role model who was active in the school and community.

"He was an above-average student who was involved in (the Boy Scouts) and had a strong sense of patriotism," Ebenstein told The Grand Rapids Press.

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, issued a statement offering his condolences to Derks' loved ones.

"Specialist Derks was a brave man who sacrificed his safety and well-being to defend his country, and his memory will not be forgotten by those whose lives he touched," Hoekstra said.

Derks had "great pride" in his mission in Iraq, the family said. He enjoyed the camaraderie of other soldiers and e-mailed and telephoned his parents often.

"He often bragged about the Humvee he drove around Baghdad," his family said. "He loved doing so."

Army Specialist Brian K. Derks was killed in action on 08/13/05.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Army Specialist Christopher M. Katzenberger

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Christopher M. Katzenberger, 25, of St. Louis, Missouri.

Spc Katzenberger died in Bagram, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained earlier that day in Ghazni, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his HMMWV during convoy operations. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Katzenberger was hit by a piece of metal while riding in a truck and died from internal injuries, said his father, Michael Katzenberger.

Katzenberger was a medic in the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry, from Fort Bragg, N.C.

"We thought he would be semi-safe compared to Iraq," his father said. "But I guess it was his fate. I guess these things happen."

Katzenberger, a 1998 graduate of DeSmet Jesuit High School, joined the Army after working in a variety of jobs, including a McDonald's restaurant and a convenience store.

"He was just trying to find his way," said Michael Katzenberger, who also has a daughter. "It was a surprise to us that he wanted to join the Army. We were actually glad for him."

While in the Army, Katzenberger liked to jog, his father said.

And before he joined the Army, he loved to play basketball and other sports with youngsters in his neighborhood, in the 2100 block of Coldbrook Court.

On Thursday, some neighbors displayed flags in front of their homes to show their support for Katzenberger's family. One neighbor put up a large flag and hung it at half-staff in front of Katzenberger's home. The flag was surrounded by three smaller ones.

Katzenberger's mother, Kathleen, is a Spanish professor at St. Louis University, and his sister, Amanda, 21, is a student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"He was unique and really liked the kids around here," said neighbor Richard Galarza, 38. "But the service is where he wanted to be."

"My thoughts and prayers are always with the young ones," Florissant Councilman Mark Schmidt said. "It is just a shame that communities like Florissant are losing our young people like this. And this really hits home when it is your community."

Army Specialist Christopher M. Katzenberger was killed in action on 08/09/05.

Army Specialist Gennaro Pellegrini, Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Gennaro Pellegrini, Jr., 31, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Spc Pellegrini died in Bayji, Iraq, while investigating a rocket-propelled grenade incident a mine exploded and enemy forces attacked using small arms fire. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment (Mechanized), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“One Punch Gerry” was the nickname fellow Philadelphia police officers gave Gennaro Pellegrini Jr. after he famously knocked out a violent suspect with just one blow.

“There’s a kid that never gave up,” said Frank Talent, of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, who watched Pellegrini, an amateur welterweight, win his first professional fight last year.

“He had heart to the end.”

Pellegrini, 31, of Philadelphia, died Aug. 9 in Bayji from a mine explosion and small-arms fire. He was the first Philadelphia police officer killed in the Iraq war. The son of a cop, Pellegrini joined the department in 2001 and inherited his father’s badge number, 3722. While in Iraq, he convinced schoolchildren to collect 350 pairs of flip-flops for Iraqi children.

He is survived by his parents, Edith and Gennaro Pellegrini Sr.

If only Pellegrini had been allowed to fight his enemies where he preferred to — in the ring, said cousin Jerry Wahl.

“My uncle said, ‘It’s a shame he couldn’t have gone over there and fought one on one, hand-to-hand combat,” said Wahl. “Then he would have taken care of business, and we wouldn’t be here right now.”

The camouflage boxing trunks emblazoned with American flags, military insignias and the name "GENNARO" still hang in the office of Blue Horizon proprietor Vernoca Michael. But soon they'll be placed in the storied Horizon's museum with the gloves, photos of famed fighters and other Philadelphia boxing memorabilia.

The man who wore the trunks, 31-year-old Philadelphia police officer Gennaro Pellegrini Jr., died alongside three fellow Army National Guardsmen last week in Beyji, Iraq. The soldiers' Humvee ran over a bomb, and was then attacked by insurgents brandishing rocket-propelled grenades.

Pellegrini, an aspiring pugilist who made a smashing professional debut at the Blue Horizon in May 2004, won't get to don those trunks for a return engagement. Horizon owner Michael, who loved Pellegrini like a son, regrets that deeply.

"I promised Gerry we'd let him fight here again after he came home," she says. "And of course he would wear those trunks. They were going to hang right here until that time arrived."

Pellegrini, who became a police officer in 2001 and quickly earned numerous commendations as well as the admiration of his colleagues, had other things to look forward to as well. He wanted to get married, to take SWAT team training, to grow older and be like his father, a retired cop who lives with Gennaro's mother Edie at the Jersey shore.

But war has an ugly way of short-circuiting dreams, and it doesn't play favorites. The story of Gennaro Pellegrini Jr. provides a tragic case in point.

He'd joined the Guard in 1998, and his six-year commitment was scheduled to end on April 24, 2004. But the Army, facing personnel challenges amid the loss of life in Iraq, extended his enlistment by 18 months under a policy that can delay separations and retirements during wartime and national

"I joined the military," Pellegrini said resignedly that evening, "and I didn't think this was going to happen. But I'm gonna go over there and do the best job I can."

First, however, he had to tend to the matter of his pro boxing debut. Owner Michael and Don Elbaum, the Blue Horizon's matchmaker, enabled Pellegrini to realize that ambition after they learned the hard-punching welterweight, who won a Golden Gloves title in 1997, had fantasized about rumbling at the Blue for years.

So on May 21, 2004, Pellegrini squared off against Andre Harris of Wildwood, N.J., in front of a crowd heavy with cops and soldiers. The little four-rounder became an epic battle.

"It was a Rocky fight, an absolute war," the colorful Elbaum remembers. "Gerry started out strong. That kid Harris had a lousy record, but he had balls, he fought back, and in the third round Gerry got tired. He was having trouble breathing, and they just pushed him out of his corner for the last round."

That round-and Pellegrini's boxing career, as it turns out-ended when he dug deep within himself to launch one final haymaker, an overhand right that knocked Harris out amid pandemonium.

The following month Pellegrini left for infantry training in Texas. And in December 2004, he and other members of Alpha Company of the First Battalion of the 111th Infantry shipped out for Iraq.

Pellegrini's wartime activities wouldn't befit the faint of heart.

"He manned checkpoints," says Lt. Jay Ostrich, a Pennsylvania National Guard spokesperson. "He went out on patrol, capturing enemy insurgents and turning them over to MPs. He was doing some of the most dangerous work in Iraq."

Capt. Lou Campione, commander of Fishtown's 26th Police District and Pellegrini's boss for four years, is certain the Army couldn't have put a better soldier on the job.

"Everybody here respected him," Campione says. "He not only had your back, he'd jump over you to protect you."

Army Specialist Gennaro Pellegrini, Jr. was killed in action on 08/09/05.

Army Specialist John Kulick

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist John Kulick, 35, of Harleysville, Pennsylvania.

Spc Kulick died in Bayji, Iraq, while investigating a rocket-propelled grenade incident a mine exploded and enemy forces attacked using small arms fire. He was assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment (Mechanized), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

John became a junior member at 16 years old at The Enterprise Fire Company of Hatboro in 1985. He rose up the ranks to Deputy Chief.

John was a member of Willow Grove and Warminster Fire Companies during his early years as a volunteer. He started his full time firefighting career at the Johnsville Naval Air Warfare Center before they were closed, he then transferred to Willow Grove Naval Air Station until he was hired at Whitpain Township Fire Department. He also worked part time at Horsham Fire Company. John loved the job, and considered the firehouse his second home. He was a mentor to many and left a lasting impression on all who met him.

We will all miss Johnny's smile and the great times which will be forever in our hearts.

John was not just a consummate professional, but an exceptional human being. He could walk into any room and it would immediately come alive. If you ever had the chance to meet him, within 10 minutes he would have left a lasting impression on you.

"Dad, things are really heating up here," the son said. He told his father where his last will and testament were, and that his papers were all in order.

"One thing he told me," said his father, "he wanted a full military funeral."

Then John had to get off the line. "I got to go, Dad," he told his father. "The Humvees are pulling out." They hung up.

"In a matter of 10 to 15 minutes," said his father, "he was dead."

Kulick, 34, was one of five members of his guard unit killed Tuesday when their convoy was attacked north of Baghdad.

One of those who died with him was his closest friend in Iraq, Philadelphia Police Officer Gennaro Pellegrini Jr.

In the phone call, Kulick had told his father that if something bad happened, the elder Kulick wouldn't get the news from television. Instead, there'd be a knock on his door. That knock came at 6 a.m. yesterday. "They woke me out of a sound sleep. It was a bad dream."

"I'm basically numb," his father said.

So were fellow members of the Whitpain Township Fire Department, who were grieving yesterday.

Although the department has a number of volunteer members, Kulick was one of four full-time firefighters and the most senior member.

He was popular, and also highly respected by those who worked with him.

Yesterday, they described him as an upbeat, high-energy guy who made people laugh, someone with a real passion for firefighting, and for doing things the right way.

"When you were in the room with him, he was the one who was the most professional," said Don Lynch, who along with Bob Gannon and Joelle Lesniake made up the team of four full-timers that considered themselves a close family.

"His uniform was pressed, his badge was on straight," said Lynch. If Kulick felt a tool wasn't properly placed on a firetruck, he would take the time to remount it.

"He was 100-percent professional," said Lynch.

After the 9/11 attacks, but before the war in Iraq, Kulick joined the National Guard. He had two reasons, his father said.

One was to use the additional income to buy things for his daughter, Amanda, who is now 8, and to eventually help pay for her college education.

Kulick, who was divorced, was absolutely devoted to his daughter, and took her fishing, to the firehouse to meet his friends, everywhere.

But he had another reason for joining, his father said: he felt that if it came to fighting terrorists, he wanted to do it in Iraq, not on U.S. soil.

"That 9/11 really set him off," said his father.

Lynch saw the same thing. "He took 9/11 a little harder than the rest of us. He really took it to heart. He wanted to do more than what he was just doing for the community."

Kulick's unit was sent to Iraq in December.

At first, he believed in the war. But then that changed.

"He had a lot of faith in the war when he went in," his father said. "But he lost that faith."

Kulick described to his father how the Americans would take over a town, but then as soon as they left, the insurgents would take it right back. And how he could no longer trust the women and children not to turn against them. "He said it was a big quagmire, and he couldn't wait to get out of it," his father said.

Kulick was also distressed that the military, despite promises, continued to send soldiers out on patrol in vehicles with makeshift armor, or no armor at all, his father said.

When he came home for two weeks earlier this summer, he told family and friends he didn't want to go back.

"He was scared stiff," his father said. "And he was a brave guy."

He told his father he hoped to be home by his birthday, November 17, but also admitted, in his darker moments, that he might not make it.

Said his father: "It was his fate to go to Iraq and die in the war."

Kulick, who was a medic as well as a firefighter in Whitpain Township, had spent the last several months as a fill-in medic for his unit in Iraq.

His father says he wouldn't be surprised if his son had been trying to help those wounded in the ambush when he was killed. That's the kind of soldier, and man, he was.

Army Specialist John Kulick was killed in action on 08/09/05.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Army Sgt. Brahim J. Jeffcoat

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Brahim J. Jeffcoat, 25, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Sgt Jeffcoat died near Balad, Iraq, while conducting convoy operations and an improvised explosive device detonated his HMMWV. He was assigned to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s Company A, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Brahim Jeffcoat was raised in a deeply spiritual family with a deep commitment to public service. His grandmother Amatullah raised her children to fight racial injustice in America, be the victims African-American, Jewish or Islamic. His aunt Desiree served in the U.S. Navy and as a local police officer, and his mother Julia has worked as a nurse and an advocate for impoverished Philadelphians.

So, it wasn't a surprise when Brahim, a George Washington High graduate who went to the Community College of Philadelphia and then Temple University for business administration, enlisted in the National Guard.

"He loved his country," says Julia. "He was proud to be an American soldier."

When the War on Terror broke out, Brahim was stationed in Germany. At some point in late 2003, he went to Samarra, Iraq. The family doesn't know exactly when because he hid it from them, claiming he was still in Germany. Later, he admitted he lied to keep them from worrying.

When the vehicle flipped over, Brahim was pinned, his pelvis crushed. He still pulled the remainder of his men out. It is the family's understanding that Brahim lived for an hour longer.

Army Sgt. Brahim J. Jeffcoat was killed in action on 08/06/05.

Army Specialist Kurt E. Krout

Remember Our Heroes

Army Specialist Kurt E. Krout, 43, of Spinnerstown, Pennsylvania.

Spc Krout died near Balad, Iraq, while conducting convoy operations and an improvised explosive device detonated his HMMWV. He was assigned to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s Company A, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Ilse Krout of upper Bucks County will never forget the last few moments she spent with her son, Spc. Kurt Krout, 43, before he returned to Iraq at the end of June after a 15-day leave.

''We sat on the couch and talked,'' said the 78-year-old Spinnerstown resident. ''He stood up and gave me a big hug, and then he said he had to give his sister a big hug too. I told him, 'God bless you.'''

Krout, a father of four and member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard who lived with his mother, was one of two soldiers killed Saturday in northern Iraq when a roadside bomb detonated under their armored Humvee, military officials said.

Family, friends and co-workers at the Wal-Mart in Richland Township, where Krout worked as a manager, mourned the loss Monday.

''I never thought this could happen,'' his mother said. ''It will take a while before we can remember he's not coming back.''

Four members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment were in the Humvee, which was part of a supply convoy on a road near the city of Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Sgt. Brahim Jeffcoat, 25, of Philadelphia was killed; Spc. Rudolph Roberson Jr., 27, of Philadelphia suffered serious head and leg injuries and was taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany; Sgt. James Newman, 33, of Schwenksville suffered minor injuries.

''Their vehicle was struck by an [improvised explosive device], and this caused it to go into an embankment and roll over,'' said Capt. Anthony Callum, commanding officer of Company A, at a news conference Monday at the 1st Battalion's Plymouth Meeting headquarters. The 111th Infantry, part of the 28th Infantry Division, is based in northeast Philadelphia.

Spc. James McIntosh, 38, of Johnstown suffered minor injuries when a second bomb went off near another Humvee in the convoy.

Callum was home on leave and is scheduled to begin his return trip to Iraq today. He said the company has been in Iraq since December, and its mission is to move supplies such as radios and weapons, as well as train Iraqi police and troops.

Pennsylvania National Guard officials said all of the soldiers in the convoy were wearing full body armor and their Humvees were ''up armored,'' or reinforced. They were on a one-year deployment.

Krout was divorced. His children are aged 14 to 21. The youngest two live with their mother in the Lansdale area, a family member said. Krout is a former Marine and was food department manager of the Richland Wal-Mart on Route 309 before he left for Iraq.

He was engaged to Barbara Kissel, whom he met while working at Wal-Mart. His son, Kurt Jr., 19, works at the Wal-Mart in the maintenance department.

Ilse Krout said she knew there was a problem early Sunday when three men in uniform came to her home in Spinnerstown, a section of Milford Township.

''You know right away something is wrong,'' she said. ''I thought maybe he lost a limb. I never thought he could get himself killed.''

Krout was described as a dedicated and motivated soldier, and a fun-loving guy with a bit of a stubborn streak once he made up his mind.

''He was a hard-headed guy,'' said Callum, who said Krout often was his driver. ''He was hard-charging and thought the whole company should be more hard-charging.''

Spc. Kyle Leishear of Quakertown got to know Krout on the drive to and from Plymouth Meeting for National Guard training. Because of an injury, Leishear was not deployed to Iraq.

''He was a fun-loving guy,'' Leishear said. ''When Kurt was around, you always knew you were going to have a good time.''

Krout joined the Marine Corps when he was 17 and served four years, according to Callum. He joined the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1995.

During his leave, Krout went to visit his friends at Wal-Mart. ''He wore his uniform and he was so proud of what he was doing in Iraq,'' said John Mims, a district manager.

''We heard Sunday and we're all numb,'' added Tim Dombroski, co-manager of the Wal-Mart. ''He was just here, and never in a million years did we think something like this could happen.''

Army Specialist Kurt E. Krout was killed in action on 08/06/05.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Army Pfc. Nils G. Thompson

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Nils G. Thompson, 19, of Confluence, Pennsylvania.

Pfc. Thompson died in Mosul, Iraq, when he was struck by enemy fire while on a routine patrol at an Iraqi police station. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Fort Lewis, Washington. Died on August 4, 2005.

By Milan Simonich, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Nils G. Thompson had one career ambition -- to serve his country as a soldier.

After he completed his hitch in the Army, he planned to return to Confluence in Somerset County to work on his parents' 100-acre farm.

Mr. Thompson achieved his goal of military service, but he never made it home. A sniper killed him Thursday in Mosul, Iraq.

Mr. Thompson, a private first class, died the day after he turned 19.

His interest in the military began in childhood. Uncles and a grandfather who had served in World War II inspired him.

"He looked up to them," Mr. Thompson's mother, Frances, said yesterday. "He knew since he was a little boy that being in the military was all he wanted. He never wavered."

Mr. Thompson lived most of his life in Staten Island, N.Y. His family, intent on escaping the big city, moved to Confluence in 2000, when he was 13.

He adapted quickly to country life, helping his father, Nils M. Thompson, put up fences and tend to cattle and sheep.

Mr. Thompson graduated from Turkeyfoot Valley High School last year, then joined the Army in August, as soon as he turned 18.

By that stage, his family did not share his enthusiasm for life in the military.

"The war was on, and we were afraid," his mother said. "But we all stood behind him and supported him."

Jeffrey Coogan, of Staten Island, a cousin of Mr. Thompson's, said relatives could not help but respect a teenager with so much determination.

"There was no stopping him," Coogan said. "It's something he'd always wanted to do."

The Army deployed Mr. Thompson to Iraq about five months ago. He phoned home every week, and peppered relatives with letters and emails that were consistently upbeat.

His mother said she would occasionally speculate on how hard life was in a war zone, but Mr. Thompson never agreed, nor did he ever complain.

"I'd say, 'It must be hot there. It's got to be over 100 degrees.' He'd say he was all right. He never said anything negative. All he did was call and encourage me."

Mr. Thompson, a Catholic, was deeply religious. Relatives said his faith kept him optimistic. A chaplain told the family that Mr. Thompson spent his free time in Iraq reading the Bible.

If fellow soldiers asked him about religion, he happily discussed it with them. Shortly before Mr. Thompson's death, Coogan said, he had reviewed a gospel reading for another soldier.

In addition to his parents, Mr. Thompson is survived by a sister, Lily, who is 14.

Family members plan a service for Staten Island. Details were incomplete yesterday. Their hope is to bury Mr. Thompson at Arlington National Cemetery, just outside Washington, D.C.

Frances Thompson said she knows that is what her son would want.

Army Pfc. Nils G. Thompson was killed in action on 08/04/05.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Marine Lance Cpl. Edward A. Schroeder II

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Edward A. Schroeder II, 23, of Columbus, Ohio.

Lance Cpl Schroeder died when his Amphibious Assault Vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device during combat operations south of Haditha, Iraq. He was assigned to Marine Force Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Columbus, Ohio. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was attached to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

Edward A. Schroeder II may have been the only one to attend Sunday school every week, but he also had a wicked sense of humor. Like the time he went to a Halloween party in a Tonya Harding costume, complete with a lead pipe.

“He could be one of your sons. He could be the kid next door,” said his mother, Rosemary Palmer.

Schroeder, 23, of Columbus, Ohio, died Aug. 3 when a roadside bomb destroyed his assault vehicle near the Iraqi-Syrian border. A 2000 high school graduate, he was based in Columbus. Heavily involved in his church youth group, Schroeder often volunteered at soup kitchens, was a counselor at Boy Scout camp, a lifeguard and a volunteer emergency medical technician.

“I just remember him always giving back to others,” said Ty Monk, Schroeder’s friend.

“He didn’t pick and choose, either. He did what everyone else didn’t want to, and he did it with a smile.”

He attended Ohio State University but left after joining the Marine Reserves. He was employed by Deluxe printing company until his unit was activated in January.

He also is survived by his father, Paul.

Lance Cpl. Edward August Schroeder II was always part of a team, a pack, a squad.

Schroeder, of Cleveland, whom friends and family called Augie, worked in concert with others: as an emergency medical technician, a lifeguard, a Boy Scout, a church youth counselor and lastly, a Marine.

His mother, Rosemary Palmer, traces the origin of his "team consciousness" to his preschool years, spent with his family in China.

Later, her son was on football, soccer, baseball, lacrosse and swimming teams while growing up in Maplewood, N.J. He wasn't an athlete, but he loved being part of the team.

"Some people are just on that wavelength and that was him," said Palmer, a Collinwood High School teacher.

Palmer also remembered her 23-year-old son as a child of contrasts.

"He was so somber, but he had a sense of fun," she said.

He showed up for a preschool event in which kids were supposed to highlight their heritage wearing a pair of lederhosen. Schroeder pulled up the knickers and greeted attendees by telling them he was a German cousin of television character Steve Urkel. "Did I do thaaat?" he mimicked the character's famous refrain.

His oddball sense of humor extended to a middle school talent show where he performed as a bumbling magician, who, along with his dummy partner, fumbled all his tricks.

He also had what his mother deemed a "Hard Copy" sense of humor when it came to Halloween. One hit costume involved four fingers, a thumb and a T-shirt lettered with L.A. Evidence Room and "one size fits all." He was the bloody glove.

"We always said he was going to be a police officer or a standup comedian. We didn't know which," his mother said.

Schroeder, one of 14 Marines killed Wednesday in a roadside bombing in Iraq, went on to college after high school and family tradition dictated he attend Ohio State University. He studied criminal justice, but was eager to work. He started to think about enlisting after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Palmer objected strenuously to her son joining up, saying she "didn't raise her son to be cannon fodder." He assured her he would never see combat and planned to be a military police officer.

More recently, he would call his father and say "Hey, Pop." He told his father that the closer his unit got to leaving Iraq, the less he thought it was worth being there.

He was supposed to return home in six weeks.

Marine Lance Cpl Edward A. Schroeder II was killed in action on 08/03/05.

Marine Cpl. David S. Stewart

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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.

Marine Cpl. David Kenneth J. Kreuter

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Marine Cpl. David Kenneth J. Kreuter, 26, of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cpl Kreuter 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 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Columbus, Ohio. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was attached to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

To be a Marine, a husband and a father.

Those were the three things David Kreuter wanted out of life. However briefly, he achieved his goals before being killed with 13 other Marines Wednesday by a roadside bomb.

After graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 2004, Kreuter, 26, started a career with the Marines.

He married his sweetheart, Chrystina, and 7 weeks ago they had a son named Christian. Kreuter saw his son in pictures but never got to cradle him, said his mother, Pat Murray.

"My son was basically a newlywed," Murray said on Thursday. "He was excited about being married and excited about Christian."

Kreuter assured her in a phone call on June 23 that the Marines were making a difference in Iraq and that most Iraqis were glad they were there.

Kreuter was one of two graduates of St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati killed in Wednesday's attack. The all-boys Jesuit school with ties to Cleveland's St. Ignatius also lost graduate Michael Cifuentes.

"It's like a double punch," St. Xavier spokesman Mark Motz said.

The Rev. Walter Deye, president of St. Xavier, said Kreuter, a 1997 graduate, embodied the traditions and motto of the school: "Men to Serve Others."

The fact that Kreuter never held his son weighed hard on those at the school.

"That's the kind of sacrifice we're talking about here," Deye said.

Kreuter, a graduate of St. Xavier High School and the University of Cincinnati, had been in Iraq since March. His son, Christian, was born in June. Kreuter and his wife, Chrystina, married last fall, News 5's Brian Hamrick reported.

"He was going to be a really good husband and a good father," said Pat Murray, Kreuter's mother. "I feel really badly that his wife got to know him (for) such a short time period (and) that his son will never know him. That bothers me a lot."

Kreuter majored in criminal justice at UC, but he wanted to make the Marine Corps his career and planned to go to Officers' Training School, his family said.

Relatives said Kreuter liked every part of being a Marine -- from the uniform to working the most dangerous missions in the most dangerous part of the world.

"He wanted to be the best. He wanted to do the hardest thing possible," Kreuter's father, Ken, said. "(As) near as we can tell, he was involved in just about every major mission or event over there."

Kreuter's mother said she woke up Wednesday knowing something was wrong. When she learned Marines had been killed in Iraq, she said she knew instantly.

"They told me it was a soldier in this area and I knew. I knew right then," Murray said.

Kreuter also left behind two sisters who were so inspired by his running ability, that they also took up the sport, News 5 reported.

"He brightened a room when he came in and it's that kind of spirit you can't replace," Kreuter's father said.

Kreuter died along with four other local Marines, Lance Cpl. Michael Joseph Cifuentes, Lance Cpl. Christopher Dyer, Lance Cpl. Brett Wightman and Lance Cpl. Timothy Michael Bell Jr.

The five were members of Lima Company, based in Columbus, and the Cleveland-based battalion involved in the single deadliest roadside bombing of U.S. troops in Iraq.

St. Xavier officials said Kreuter and Cifuentes, also a St. Xavier graduate, were men of service to others and they incorporated the vision of the school into their lives in that way.

"(They were) so young, so promising, so full of life. This is real," said the Rev. William Deye, president of St. Xavier High School.

Marine Cpl. David Kenneth J. Kreuter was killed in action on 08/03/05.


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Marine Sgt. Justin F. Hoffman

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Marine Sgt. Justin F. Hoffman, 27, of Delaware, Ohio.

Sgt Hoffman 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 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Columbus, Ohio. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was attached to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

Sgt. Justin Hoffman, 27, liked motorcycles and cars and "pretty much anything that was competitive," said his father, Robert Hoffman, 58, of Delaware. He has two younger brothers, Travis 26, and Tyler, 20.

His father said Justin was a graduate of Worthington Christian High School and Ohio State University. He joined the reserves before his junior year of college.

"I think he wanted to be in the Marine Corps but wanted to go to school and continue to work," Robert said.

The father, who also served in the Marines, said he was proud of Justin.

"He's in God's hands," he said. "That's the way I've looked at it."

Justin F. Hoffman’s mom chuckled at his quirks: the playful voicemail messages left on her cell phone, the endless AOL Instant Messenger chats, his curious ability to eat mealworms at pet shops.

“Justin was more or less a reality show,” Carole Hoffman said. Hoffman, 27, of Delaware, Ohio, died Aug. 3 during combat operations south of Haditha. He was based in Columbus.

His father, Robert Hoffman, said Justin was bright — an Ohio State University graduate who worked in information systems at Cardinal Health — but was big and strong and needed an outlet for his energy.

After six years, his time in the Marine Reserves was up last year, but when he learned his unit was to be activated, he signed up again.

“He wanted to be there for his men,” Carole said. “He wanted to lead his men.”

Lately, he had enlisted family members to scout for a diamond ring.

“He teased about proposing as soon as he got off the plane,” said his girlfriend, Teri Price. “I can’t imagine my future without him. I loved him more than anything.”

Justin’s younger brother, Tyler, said, “He was a great brother and more than that he was a great friend."

Marine Sgt. Justin F. Hoffman was killed in action on 08/03/05.

Marine Sgt. Bradley J. Harper

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Marine Sgt. Bradley J. Harper, 25, of Dresden, Ohio.

Sgt Harper 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, Norfolk, Virginia.

Bradley J. Harper traded his patrols of Virginia Beach in police blues for patrols in Iraq in camouflage gear.

“It’s two different worlds,” Harper said before he left.

“This is my chance to go, to do my part. The sooner you get over there, the sooner you get back.”

Harper, 25, of Dresden, Ohio, was killed Aug. 3 by a roadside bomb south of Haditha. He was based at Norfolk.

He studied criminal justice at Ohio University, then moved to Virginia Beach, Va., to become a police officer in January 2004.

“He was exactly what we wanted in an officer and a citizen,” said Harry McBrien, the recruiter for the Virginia Beach Police Department. “He was an all-around awesome guy and a real go-getter.”

When the academy staff “tried to stress him out a little bit,” he “just smiled” and kept going, McBrien said.

“What can I tell you about him?” asked Master Police Officer Rene Ball. “He was a stellar candidate” for the 750-member department, and he showed himself to be “an even better recruit.”

Harper is survived by his wife, Kendra.

Officer Bradley Harper joined the VBPD on February 16, 2004, and graduated from our 37th Basic Recruit Academy in July, 2004.

Officer Harper served the City of Virginia Beach with distinction during his brief tenure, and lost his life while serving our Nation in the Global War on Terrorism. Our community owes Officer Harper a debt of gratitude, as he chose to put his life on the line in defense of our rights and freedoms, both on the streets of our City and in Iraq.

A patriot and a hero, Officer Harper will be missed, yet will always be remembered.

Marine Sgt. Bradley J. Harper was killed in action on 08/03/05.

Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas William B. Bloem

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Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas William B. Bloem, 20, of Belgrade, Montana.

Lance Cpl Bloem 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 Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Billings, Montana.

Nicholas Bloem didn’t hide his future career goal. During his first conversation with his high-school sweetheart, he told her he wanted to be a Marine.

“It was definitely his calling in life. I don’t think he could have asked for a better way to die,” said Kacie Ouano. Bloem, 20, of Belgrade, Mont., died Aug. 3 when his vehicle was hit by an explosive south of Haditha. He was based at Billings.

Bloem graduated high school in 2003, moving to Montana with his family from Bellevue, Wash., just before his senior year. He wanted to enroll at Montana State University in Bozeman.

His dream was to rise to the top of the command chain as an officer in the Marine Corps.

“It appealed to that part of him that wanted to overcome something that was seemingly insurmountable,” said his father, Al Bloem.

His father said Bloem had been excited about joining the military and chose the Marines because “he wanted the hardest and he wanted the best.” He joined in July 2003.

“I was proud and he was beaming from ear to ear,” he said.

He also is survived by his mother, Debbie.

Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas William B. Bloem was killed in action on 08/03/05.

Marine Lance Cpl. Eric J. Bernholtz

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Marine Lance Cpl. Eric J. Bernholtz, 23, of Grove City, Ohio.

Lance Cpl Bernholtz 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 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Columbus, Ohio. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was attached to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

The night before his funeral, friends of Eric J. Bernholtz gathered to recall a guy who would sneak into church to play basketball, who would drink chocolate milkshakes and talk all night.

They laughed about his trademark footwear, which he called “shandals.” He’d cut the toes and heels off old gym shoes, turning them into something resembling sandals.

“This is a person that loved life,” said Dave Montgomery, a friend.

Bernholtz, 23, of Grove City, Ohio, died Aug. 3 when his vehicle was hit by a bomb south of Haditha. He graduated from high school in 2000 and was assigned to Columbus.

The Rev. Rob Paugh laughed about Eric’s navigational skills. “He thought he had a sense of direction,” he said, explaining that Bernholtz managed to find a wedding in Louisiana by driving south without knowing the name of the town or the church. Paugh was amazed to see him there in a suit — but no socks.

His older brother Adam, who is deaf, gave a eulogy in sign language. As he finished, he signed: “I love you. I can’t wait to run and hug you.”

He also is survived by his parents, James and Cathy Bernholtz.

James and Kathy Bernholtz have called St. Charles home for just two short months. But they raised their son Eric in Grove City, Ohio outside Cleveland. He was a devoted member of his local church, acting in its plays and coaching church sports. He talked of becoming a firefighter. But became a Marine instead.

James Bernholtz says, "Eric told me when he was on the phone with me last, he said, 'Dad I'm not scared. I'm ready to come home, but I know I have to finish what I came here to do.'"

Kathy Bernholtz says, "He said, 'I'm not afraid and you know mom if something happens I'm O.K. with Jesus. I'm fine. You're going to see me again.'"

But they will not see Eric again. The 23-year-old Lance Corporal was one of seven Marines killed August 3rd when their amphibious assault vehicle was attacked during combat operations south of Haditha, Iraq.

James Bernholtz says, "She called me and told me that there were two Marines waiting for us. I knew. The Lord gave us both peace right away because we know exactly where he is and I know in 20 someodd years, I'll be shaking hands with him again."

Marine Lance Cpl. Eric J. Bernholtz was killed in action on 08/03/05.

Marine Lance Cpl. William B. Wightman

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Marine Lance Cpl. William B. Wightman,22, of Sabina, Ohio.

Lance Cpl Wightman died when his Amphibious Assault Vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device during combat operations south of Haditha, Iraq. He was assigned to Marine Force Reserve’s 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Columbus, Ohio. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was attached to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

Lance Cpl. William Brett Wightman grew up in Sabina, a Clinton County community about 30 miles southeast of Dayton, dreaming of being a U.S. Marine.

He enlisted as a reservist before graduating from East Clinton High School in 2002 and planned to re-enlist in the Marines in October. The 23-year-old wanted to rise to the top of the service, his relatives said.

"He said, 'People are upset because we're over here fighting,' " said his aunt, Missy Luttrell of Sabina. "But he said, 'We just rescued some children from this house. And if you could have seen the looks on their faces and how glad they were to see us, it made it all worthwhile.' So he believed in what he was doing."

Wightman was fulfilling a dream he had since he was 3.

"He would play with those GI Joes and he'd say, 'I'm going to grow up and be one of these guys,' " Luttrell said. "All of his life, that's all he would talk about."

When Wightman was called to active duty in December, he left his job as a carpenter at Palm Harbor Homes in Sabina but hoped to return soon, said Ted Wright, the company's human resources manager.

"He was a little apprehensive, as any of us would be about going into harm's way, but he was glad to do it to serve his country," Wright said. "He told us not to worry about him, he felt he would be fine."

From his home in Washington Court House on Thursday, Wightman's father, Keith Wightman, wept as he recounted the life and death of his only child.

"It happened. It happened. I prayed everyday that it wouldn't," he said. "But he did his duty and he made us all proud here in this little part of the state. I just pray to God he went fast and all the boys in that vehicle went fast and didn't suffer."

The grieving 47-year-old father found comfort in remembering how his son excelled at football, basketball and track in high school, and that his military service allowed him to travel to places like Iceland, Ireland and Israel.

The last time they saw each other before Brett Wightman left for the war was Jan. 11, his 23nd birthday. They ate dinner at a steakhouse. Then, they hugged. He got into his pickup truck and drove off to pick up a friend.

"I hated to let him go but you know the future is there for them and all my life I tried to tell him there are no obstacles," Keith Wightman said. "He wanted to be a Marine."

Once his son was overseas, his father looked forward to his phone calls.

"In his last talk with me he said he was anxious to come home," his father said.

"What gets me through this is I believe in God and I believe one day I will see him again," he said. "I am going to say, 'Hey, where have you been? I missed you.' "

Marine Lance Cpl. William B. Wightman was killed in action on 08/03/05.

Marine Lance Cpl. Timothy M. Bell, Jr.

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Marine Lance Cpl. Timothy M. Bell, Jr., 22, of West Chesterfield, Ohio.

Lance Cpl Bell 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 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Columbus, Ohio. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was attached to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

Timothy Michael Bell Jr. was a black-belt in judo who hoped to buy a motorcycle when he returned from his tour in Iraq in September.

“My son was the last of the John Waynes, but tougher,” said his father, Timothy Michael Bell Sr.

Bell, 22, of West Chesterfield, Ohio, died in an explosion Aug. 3 south of Haditha. A 2003 high school graduate, he was based in Columbus.

He was a nephew of Kansas City Royals manager Buddy Bell and cousin of Buddy Bell’s son, David, who plays for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was a grandson of Gus Bell, Reds outfielder from 1953 to 1961.

Bell wanted to be a Marine since he was 6. His bedroom was filled with Marine posters and memorabilia. A camouflage Marine blanket even covered his bed.

When his parents took him to deploy for training with his unit, he had just one message for them, said his stepmother, Vivian Bell. “He just said, ‘This is what I was born to do,”’ she said.

Always protective of his three younger sisters, Bell joined the Marines in part because he wanted to protect them. “It’s very important for me that everybody knows that he did this for them,” the elder Bell said.

He also is survived by his mother, Jacqueline.

Marine Lance Cpl. Timothy M. Bell, Jr.was killed in action on 08/03/05.

Marine Lance Cpl. Kevin G. Waruinge

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Marine Lance Cpl. Kevin G. Waruinge, 22, of Tampa, Florida.

Lance Cpl Waruinge died when his Amphibious Assault Vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device during combat operations south of Haditha, Iraq. He was assigned to Marine Forces Reserve’s 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Gulfport, Mississippi.

Kevin Waruinge was a teenager living in his native Kenya when his family won a lottery to receive a visa to the United States and a chance for a new life.

But for Waruinge, 22, of Tampa, that new life ended this week with a massive explosion on a dusty road in western Iraq.

The Lance Corporal, who had volunteered to return to Iraq, was one of 14 Marines killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb struck their lightly armored Amphibious Assault Vehicle near the town of Haditha.

For Waruinge, dying on an unmarked street in an obscure Iraqi desert town marked the end of a promising life.

In 1998, his family entered a worldwide lottery to win a visa to immigrate to the United States. Millions apply for the visas, with just 50,000 awarded each year.

Waruinge, his parents and his two brothers moved to Tampa, where his father works for a soda bottling company and his mother is a nurse.

Kevin Waruinge graduated in 2001 from West Gate Christian School, and joined the Marine Corps Reserve in August of the same year. He became a U.S. citizen in 2003.

Though Waruinge had been a citizen for only two years, he was an American through and through, said the pastor at his church and school.

"He was an African boy who was all-American," said the Rev. Bruce Turner, pastor of West Gate Baptist Church.

Turner said Waruinge, an honor student and athlete, knew what he wanted to do when he graduated.

"He just couldn't wait to be a Marine," Turner said. "That's what he wanted."

Waruinge survived one tour of duty in Iraq, returning home to resume his studies at Pensacola Christian College. But about five months ago, he volunteered to return for another tour in Iraq, despite the danger, Turner said.

"He knew he could die there. His father talked to him about that before he went back," Turner said. "But he wanted to go. He said he felt like the job needed to be done. And he said if God wanted him, he'd find him no matter where he was."

Waruinge was scheduled to return home Oct. 1.

At Pensacola Christian College, Waruinge was a junior closing in on a degree in criminal justice, said Matt Beemer, the college's vice president.

Turner said Waruinge's parents were devastated by his death, but took solace in their faith and their new country.

"They're very proud of their son," Turner said. "He wanted to be a Marine, and he wanted to go back to Iraq. He loved this country."

Marine Lance Cpl Kevin G. Waruinge was killed in action on 08/03/05.