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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 28, 2005

Hawai'i mourns

 •  List of troops killed
 •  Share your condolences

Memorials planned Sunday, Thursday
 • Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe will allow the public to visit its Pacific War Memorial near the front gate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday to leave flowers, wreaths, to pray and express support to the military, families and friends of the 26 Marines and one sailor from the base who died in the helicopter crash Wednesday in Iraq. The rest of the base will be off limits to the public.

 • Aikahi Elementary School will hold a candle-light vigil from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

As the Marine Corps community in Hawai'i tried to cope with the loss of 26 Marines and a sailor from Wednesday's helicopter crash in Iraq, heartfelt grief poured out around the country.

Hawai'i House members observed a moment of silence yesterday for all service members from Hawai'i or based in Hawai'i who have been killed in the line of duty while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy, executive officer of the 3rd Marine Regiment, and his wife, Trudy, "key volunteer network" coordinator, described the reaction at the Kane'ohe base to the deaths of 27 troops.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

William Etterling got home from work that day and his wife asked him if he had heard about the helicopter crash. Both wondered if their son, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Etterling, 22, was on board.

The Ohio man went to change out of his work clothes. By the time he returned to the living room, two uniformed Marines were in his home, there to tell him his son was gone.

The family's "unshakable faith in God" is helping them cope, Etterling said.

"We know things happen, not only good things," he said. "We believe there is a purpose and time for everything and God will get us through this."

The Marines told Etterling that his son's body was scheduled to arrive late yesterday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

"He is coming home, just not the way we had hoped," Etterling said.

Cpl. Matthew Smith, 24, had come close to injury or death in Iraq, literally feeling bullets whiz by in combat. His father, Gary, got a call at work from another son, who told him Marines were at their home and things didn't look good.

He knew about the helicopter crash. A CH-53E Super Stallion had gone down in western Iraq, killing 30 Marines and a sailor. Twenty-seven turned out to be with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, at Kane'ohe Bay.

"I was in shock," the Utah man said. "I knew they were all Marines and I thought there's a chance that he was with them."

"Are you sure it's Matthew?" asked his mother, Colleen Parkin. She was convinced only when the Marines recited her son's Social Security number.

Cpl. Richard Gilbert Jr.'s mother said her 28-year-old son had been scheduled to return home next week from Iraq.

"The last time I talked to him was on Monday," the Ohio woman said. "He was tired and anxious to get a shower."

Referencing the Pacific War Memorial and flag-raising on Iwo Jima behind him, Lt. Col. Owen Lovejoy told reporters yesterday at the Marine Corps base in Kane'ohe that on Iwo Jima, "uncommon valor was a common virtue," and the sentiment was fitting for Wednesday's loss of Marines.

Lovejoy, executive officer for the 3rd Marine Regiment, said the deaths of 26 Marines and a sailor from Hawai'i is a tremendous loss.

"The impact of losing 27 Marines in any one day — I think the last time we lost that many Marines was the Beirut bombing in 1983," he said.

In October of that year, 241 Marines and other servicemen were killed in a suicide bomb attack on a barracks.

Asked how he was taking the deaths, Lovejoy said, "It's difficult because you (look) at Marines like brothers," he said, his voice trailing off as he tried to maintain his composure.

A memorial is planned in Iraq for Wednesday. A remembrance also will be held in Hawai'i, but has not yet been scheduled, officials said.

Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, state adjutant general, said he was told by Marine officials that the families of four of the victims of the crash live in Hawai'i. Many spouses of Kane'ohe Marines, he said, choose to return to the Mainland after their loved ones are deployed.

Gov. Linda Lingle met with the widows and children of three of the dead Marines at an undisclosed location for about 50 minutes yesterday, according to Russell Pang, the governor's spokesman.

The crash of the "Super Stallion" helicopter took place at 1:20 a.m. near Rutbah, a desert corner of Iraq that touches the Syrian and Jordanian borders. The region has been a crossing point for foreign fighters entering Iraq.

The cause wasn't immediately clear, though there was bad weather in the area. Satellite photos showed sandstorms in the area. A second helicopter flying nearby reported no hostile fire.

"We think it was an accident, but we don't know for sure," Lovejoy said. An investigation is continuing.

About 1,000 Hawai'i Marines with 1/3 landed in Iraq in September with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit out of Okinawa, Japan. An aviation combat element of CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters out of Kane'ohe Bay from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced) was sent to western Iraq, and has ferried Marines taking part in a raid near Qaim.

Lovejoy said the Hawai'i Marines were all veterans of the Battle of Fallujah — pitched battles waged in November to wrest control of the city from insurgents.

"That's what makes it particularly sad," he said. Forty-five Marines and sailors with the Hawai'i-based unit have been killed in Iraq — eight on Oct. 30 in a suicide-car attack in Fallujah.

Spouses back in Hawai'i said the Marines had been moved from Fallujah to provide security for national elections scheduled for Sunday when the helicopter crash occurred. There was no confirmation of unit, but family members said Company C from 1/3 was on board the helicopter.

The helicopter crew was from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, based at Marine Corps Station Miramar in San Diego.

All family notifications have been made, Lovejoy said. The Defense Department, required to wait 24 hours before public notification is made, has begun to release the names of the dead.

Sarah Carter, who lives on the Kane'ohe base and whose husband, Lance Cpl. Joshua Carter, 25, is with 1/3 but currently is in Okinawa, said the mood on base is "pretty somber. People are pretty depressed. We're just focused on getting our guys home."

Little information has been released to families, and she said there's been "a lot of frustration and sadness."

Carol Armstead, whose husband, John, is a first sergeant with 1/3 in Iraq, said she went to the tax office and post office on base yesterday, and "it seemed like a ghost town. Just everything was so surreal. I just thought everything was quiet."

"It could be just a lot of people are at home glued to their TV sets trying to see what's going on in the news."

Trudy Lovejoy, who helps oversee the "key volunteer network" of spouses who provide family support during deployments, said she had received many phone calls from other volunteers asking if they could provide childcare or meals for affected families.

Informational meetings had not yet been held because the focus still was on notifying all the families who lost Marines.

Asked what the community could provide, Trudy Lovejoy said "just support, kindness, empathy."

Counselors and chaplains are available for families who need assistance, and the Department of Education has made available five social psychologists, two clinical psychologists, four program managers and social workers for children in school impacted by the tragedy.

Lt. Col. Lovejoy said Marines in Iraq may have gotten the opportunity to e-mail or phone home.

Despite the tragedy, he said the Kane'ohe Marines are back on the job in Iraq with "counter-insurgency operations" geared toward ensuring as peaceful of an election Sunday as possible.

"Even though they did lose 27 of their comrades, they have to keep going," he said.

Staff writers Mike Gordon and Gordon Y.K. Pang and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.