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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 4:54 a.m., Friday, February 4, 2005

Remembering the fallen

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Advertiser Staff and News Services

Capt. Paul C. Alaniz, 32, one of the pilots of the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter that went down Jan. 26 in Iraq, was fulfilling a lifelong dream. "He wanted to be a helicopter pilot more than anyone else I'd ever known," said Olympia Reeves, a former co-worker who now is a library associate at Texas A&M University. "He was very focused, honest and confident. He believed in what the Corps stood for. Not too many people get to do what they want and believe in it so much." Alaniz was assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. He is survived by his wife, Thelma, and an 18-month-old daughter, Yvette, both of San Diego. He joined the military in June 1996, and this was his second tour of duty in Iraq. He had won multiple awards for his service.

Staff Sgt. Brian D. Bland, 26, of Weston, Wyo., reported for recruit training in May 1996, and attended the School of Infantry, Camp Pendleton, Calif., during August of 1996, where he trained to become a mortarman. He arrived in Hawai'i in November 2003. Bland traveled with his unit to the Middle East in September to conduct operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Bland is survived by his wife and mother. His awards include the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Marine Corps Drill Instructor ribbon and Navy Unit Commendation ribbon.

Lance Cpl. Jonathan E. Etterling joined the Marines to experience the Corps' intense lifestyle, but when he deployed to Iraq, he found that his mission meshed perfectly with his own core beliefs. "If he was your friend, he was your friend," said his father, William Etterling, from the family's home in Wheelersburg, Ohio. "He could not abide a bully. I think that is one reason he felt so strongly about Iraq. He felt he was helping to overthrow a bully, Saddam." The younger Etterling — a 22-year-old who left for boot camp two weeks after high school graduation in May 2002 — wanted a career in law enforcement, his father said. He was an easygoing young man "who didn't make any enemies," his father said. He discovered that war was dangerous, grinding work. Once, the heavy-weapons specialist was wounded in the knee by shrapnel and on several other occasions was saved by his bulletproof vest. When he called home Saturday for the last time, his parents could tell he was exhausted. "He said he had everything they needed on the verge of battle," his father said. "He was ready mentally, physically and spiritually to do what was needed. He said to have no regrets if something happened."

Sgt. Michael Finke Jr. knew what he wanted to be from the get-go: A Marine. Always. His family knew it. Heather, his wife of two years, knew it. He was born to wear the uniform, they said. "He enlisted halfway through his senior year in high school," said Finke's dad, Michael Finke Sr. "We had to sign the papers because he was under age. Once he graduated, he went right out to basic training." And once he was a Marine, Finke, of Wadsworth, Ohio, was ready to make it a career. "I know it sounds corny, but everybody loved Michael," said his dad, who last spoke to his son on Tuesday — a day before Finke's helicopter crashed in Iraq, killing everyone on board. What'd they talk about? Nothing. Everything. Mostly, they talked about the Marines. Finke, 28, a veteran Marine of nine years, was happy to leave Fallujah, he said. But he had been moved by the people he met there. "He told me, 'They are just like us.' "

1st Lt. Travis J. Fuller, 26, of Granville, Mass., reported for duty in November 2001, and attended the Infantry Officer's Course during June of 2002. He arrived in Hawai'i, July 2004. Fuller traveled with his unit in September to the Middle East to conduct operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Fuller is survived by his parents. His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Cpl. Timothy "Timmy" Gibson, 23, of Merrimack, N.H., sent photos home of him teaching Iraqi soldiers how to play football. "That's exactly what he was like," said Cindy Woods Theberge, a former neighbor and close friend of the Gibson family. "I don't think Timmy knew how to hate anyone. Merrimack is an All-American town, and Timmy was an All-American boy. When he walked into a room, it sparkled." Gibson graduated in 2000 from Merrimack High School, where he was a football quarterback and center-fielder in baseball. Gibson joined the Marines in April 2001 after attending college for six months. "He had a heart of gold and helped everybody he could, and did it many times," Thomas Gibson said of the eldest of his two sons, both of whom were in the Marines. Lance Cpl. Patrick Gibson, Timothy's younger brother, also served in Iraq. "I pray for all the boys still alive," Thomas Gibson said. Timothy Gibson will be buried in Merrimack, where he lived in a house with his parents, maternal grandparents and his favorite uncle, Joe. Elaine Gibson said that when she last spoke to her son, "he said that he thought he was doing good and that he was helping people, but it was different than anything he could have expected."

Cpl. Richard Gilbert Jr. was looking forward to coming home next week from the war in Fallujah, Helen Gilbert, his mom, said. Foremost on Gilbert's mind: a good, old-fashioned American shower, with plenty of water. "I think he said it had been 19 days since he had had a shower," his mom said. Gilbert, of Dayton, Ohio, arrived in Fallujah last August and spent 2y´ months of a 100-day tour in some of the heaviest fighting of the war without getting a scratch. But getting home had been on the music lover's mind. He longed to play his guitar. As a political-science major at Dayton's Sinclair Community College, Gilbert, 28, dreamed of finishing college, running for city commissioner, then mayor, then Congress, and eventually president of the United States, his mother said. Now, instead of planning a homecoming, the family is planning Gilbert's funeral. "I never dreamed I would have to bury one of my children," said his mom. "But the last thing we said to each other is 'I love you.' "

* Capt. Lyle L. Gordon of Midlothian, Texas, had been looking skyward his whole life. According to his parents, Dicky and Mary Gordon, the dream was there long before their son got his wings — even as he was playing high school football and baseball, and through his time as a student at Texas A&M. And what Gordon, 30, loved to fly most after he got those pilots wings, the couple said, was flying the CH-53 Super Stallion for the Marines. But in wartime things can go very wrong even when the enemy isn't firing. Gordon knew the risks of being a pilot, said his dad. "He never wanted us to worry about it," he said. Added his mother, "I just accepted that that was his station in life and all I could do was support him. ... I'd already told him he was a hero and that he was brave, and I was honored to be his mother."

* Assigned to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Miramar, Calif.

Kyle J. Grimes, a 21-year-old Marine from Bethlehem, Pa., wanted to go to college and to work for the FBI when he got out of the Marines. "His dedication made him a good Marine," his mother, Marybeth LeVan of Baton Rouge, La., said. She described her son as lovable, affectionate and sentimental. Marines came to her home Wednesday night to tell her he had been killed. LeVan said Grimes' death strengthened her belief in the U.S. mission in Iraq, but his grandmother, Kathleen Grimes, said it had the opposite effect on her. "I think they should all come home," she said.

Lance Cpl. Tony Hernandez was rejected by Marine recruiters when he tried to enlist in his senior year of high school. They said that at 210 pounds, he was overweight. But the 22-year-old native of Canyon Lake, Texas, was determined to make the cut, said his father, Leroy Hernandez. He wanted to serve his country and had belonged to Junior ROTC in high school. In the fall of 2001, a few months after graduation, a local recruiter started exercising with Hernandez and he trimmed enough — 20 pounds — to be accepted. By the time he got out of boot camp, he'd lost a total of 50 pounds. "We hardly recognized him," his father said. Hernandez, a helicopter crew chief, was based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. "He was a kid that enjoyed helping people," his father said. "He was really good at that. He'd bend over backward to help anybody." His friends called him "Fuzzy" because he always kept his red hair cropped short. Whenever he called home, Hernandez didn't complain about the hardships of war. "He was always positive about things," his father said. Hernandez leaves behind a 21-year-old widow. The couple would have celebrated their first wedding anniversary next month.

Lance Cpl. Brian C. Hopper, 21, of Wynne, Ark., enlisted in the Marine Corps in September 2002, and attended the School of Infantry in January 2003. Hooper arrived in Hawai'i in March 2003. He is survived by his father. His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Petty Officer 3rd Class John D. House, a 28-year-old Navy medic, often held the lives of wounded Marines in his hands, but was never able to hold his infant son, born on Christmas Eve, his parents said. House was on his second tour of duty in Iraq, having remained on the front lines when the rest of the unit returned to Pearl Harbor last summer. There were simply not enough medics in Iraq, and House felt a keen sense of devotion to the Marines he was assigned to, said his mother, Susan House of Simi Valley, Calif. House enlisted in the Navy in 1998. He had been married for four years, and his wife, Melanie, lives in Hawai'i. When his son was born, House was able to hear the infant's first cries over a satellite telephone. A few days later, he glimpsed the boy through a video connection. He had planned to spend more time with his wife and child after his enlistment ended in March 2006.

Lance Cpl. Saeed Jafarkhani-Torshizi Jr., 25, called Fort Worth, Texas, home. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 2003, and in December 2003 he attended the School of Infantry where he trained as a rifleman. Jafarkhani-torshizi began his tour in Hawai'i in February 2004. Jafarkhani-torshizi is survived by his mother. His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Cpl. Stephen P. Johnson, 24, was among the 26 Hawai'i-based Marines to die in the helicopter crash. Johnson, of Siskiyou County, Calif., was the father of a year-old boy. "He was a proud Marine," said Johnson's brother-in-law, Jason Williams.

Cpl. Sean Kelly had always wanted to be a Marine and often spoke of it when he attended Pitman High School, where he graduated in 2000. He even wrote it in his yearbook. The 23-year-old from Pitman, N.J., came from a family with a strong military tradition. His father and grandfather both served their country and an older brother is a Marine. He was remembered as polite, respectful and, one former social studies teacher said, "a stand-up guy." "Sean was one of those students who left his mark on all of us," recalled middle school teacher Tom Clayton. "He was kind, popular and very focused." His parents, Lynn and Alexander Kelly, are proud of what he accomplished in his short life, said Thomas Schulte, superintendent of Pitman Public Schools. "Today, the entire town of Pitman is devastated by the news," Schulte said. Kelly, who was the youngest of the Alexanders' three children, all boys, was less than a month away from leaving Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Dexter S. Kimble, 30, of Houston

Lance Cpl. Allan Klein, 34, of Macomb, Mich., enlisted in the Marine Corps in October 2001. He attended the School of Infantry in February 2002 and arrived in Hawai'i in June 2002. He is survived by his parents. His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Tim Knight married his high school sweetheart, who gave birth to their first child four months ago. Knight, 22, was a native of Brooklyn, Ohio, and was looking foward to returning home in April to meet his child for the first time. His teachers at Brooklyn High School said he had known throughout his time there that he would be a Marine, and his conviction showed in his confident gait. The flag at the high school flew at half-staff yesterday, and the staff said they planned to tie yellow ribbons around each tree on campus in Knight's honor.

Lance Cpl. Fred L. Maciel, 20, of Spring, Texas.

Cpl. James Lee Moore was hard on the outside but sensitive on the inside and had aspirations of becoming a hunting and fishing guide after ending his stay in the Marine Corps. Jim Early, Moore's counselor at Roseburg High School in Roseburg, Ore., said yesterday that Moore fit in well with any number of different groups at the school. He graduated in 1999. Moore, who would have turned 25 a week from now, had been in Iraq since July. He was scheduled to return to the United States in April or May. Three Marines in dress blue uniforms came to the door of Moore's father, Garry, and stepmother at about 9 p.m. Wednesday. They saw the soldiers through the window before they knocked. Garry Moore, who said he had a sick feeling in his stomach all day after hearing of the crash, knew the reason for their visit. "I already had this feeling that he was gone. And when I saw the Marines, I knew," he said.

Nathan Moore, 21, came from a family with a Marine tradition: His grandfather and father were Marines, and his parents met at Camp Pendleton, Calif., according to Moore's aunt, Jodee Bean. Bean said she wasn't a bit surprised when Moore joined. "He believed in his country and he went," she said. "We should honor him." Bean, of Quitman, Texas, remembers Moore as a happy boy growing up in a small-town setting in Champaign, Ill. He was very close to his mother, Amber, and only sister, Amanda, she said. He loved sports, particularly baseball and gymnastics. "Every time I'd turn around he was doing somersaults, flips, you name it," and Moore was involved in competitive gymnastics as he got older, Bean said. Moore is survived by his mother, Amber, his father Duane, and sister, Amanda. Moore was due to return home around March, Bean said. The loss is "devastating," she said. "This is really, really hurting my sister a lot."

Lance Cpl. Mourad Ragimov lied to his mother about his destination when it was time for the Marine to ship out from Okinawa to Iraq. "He didn't want me to know," said his mother, Dinara Ragimov. "His sister, his father and quite a few close friends knew." He survived heavy fighting in Fallujah, "and then he called me the early morning after Christmas and said, 'Mom, now I can tell you the truth. I've been in Iraq and didn't want you to know. But the awful part has already passed, and now I can tell you I'm fine and safe and pretty soon I'll be sent back to Japan.' " Ragimov, 20, was strong, and didn't want his family to worry, his mother said. But he also had an artistic side, and played guitar. He was 18 years old when he went to boot camp in 2002. "We begged him not to go," Dinara Ragimov said. "For two years he kind of tried to listen to us, but eventually he said, 'No way, Mom, no way, Dad, you cannot stop me. I made this decision.' He was an amazing son and an amazing brother, and that's why we'll miss him."

Lance Cpl. Rhonald "Dain" Rairdan, 20, of Castroville, Texas, dropped his weight from 230 to 200 pounds so he could join the Marine Corps, and weighed 146 pounds by the end of boot camp. "It showed how extremely determined he was to go into the Corps," Kimberly Rairdan said of her son, who was stationed at Marine Corps Base, Hawai'i, from February 2004 until his deployment last July. Rairdan, a 2003 graduate of Medina Valley High, was a four-year member of the school's heralded "Black Hawks" drill team and Air Force Junior ROTC program, where he earned top honors. There's a move to rename the school's ROTC building after her son, said Kimberly Rairdan, whose husband, David, retired last June as a master sergeant after 24 years in the Air Force. Dain Rairdan, whose enlistment was up in February, spoke to his mother the day before he died. "He told me they were going out for one more patrol and were waiting for the transport," she said. "He said they would be there for 10 days to support the elections in Iraq. All of them (killed) were due to come home." Dain Rairdan, whose birthday is April 21, will be buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. "You can never replace a child," his mother said. "He's my oldest son and I have two sons."

Lance Cpl. Hector Ramos, 20, of Aurora, Ill., was an honors art and drama student at East Aurora High School who joined the Marines in August 2003. Clayton A. Muhammad, spokesman for East Aurora High School, which Ramos attended, said: "For the school district, it is like we've lost a member of our family. It's the first time for us." A moment of silence was held yesterday at East Aurora High School, Oak Park Elementary and Simmons Middle School, which is attended by Ramos' 11-year-old brother. Nancy Ramos said her son, who was deployed to Iraq last September, planned to marry when he came home from Iraq, possibly in June. He met his fiancee, Jessica Jimenez, in high school. Ramos spoke to his mother by phone before his last mission. "I knew something was happening to him," his mother said. "He told me, 'I just have a cold. It's nothing.'" When she suggested her son report his illness to his superiors, Ramos told her: "Fever's not going to stop me. I'm not a wimp. I'm a Marine."

Lance Cpl. Gael Saintvil was studying business administration at Florida Metropolitan University in Orlando when he decided about three years ago that he wanted a change of pace, his sister, Kenerly Saintvil said yesterday. "He liked what he was doing but felt the military was his next step," Kenerly said. Gael Saintvil, who was 24, graduated in 1998 from an Orlando high school, where he tried his hand at football and wrestling. His father, Belga, said his son was eager to go to Iraq and fight alongside his friends. "He would die for peace, he would die for our cause," Belga Saintvil said. Kenerly Saintvil, 20, said she and her brothers and sisters wondered aloud from time to time when they would all be together in the same room again. That occurred when Gael Saintvil's three brothers and two sisters gathered at the family home in Orlando after receiving word that Gael had been killed in the helicopter crash.

Cpl. Nathan Schubert was described by family members as a free spirit, someone who lived for the moment. He would have turned 23 yesterday. Matt Schubert, his brother, said Nathan Schubert had been in Iraq since just before Thanksgiving, and in phone calls home he talked about the danger of raiding homes in Fallujah, the deaths of two comrades and others wounded in a firefight. He also spoke of a sense of pride while watching the Iraqis return home, knowing that he had helped bring them a sense of safety and security, family members said. Uniformed Marines arrived Wednesday, the day of the crash, at the home of Schubert's mother, Cheryl Winklepleck. "She was frosting his birthday cake when they came," said Schubert's older sister, Elizabeth Householder of Whittemore, Iowa. He was scheduled to leave Iraq on Feb. 4 and had told family he was heading for a safer part of the country in the meantime.

Lance Cpl. Darrell J. Schumann, 25, of Hampton, Va., enlisted in the Marine Corps in June 2002. He attended the School of Infantry in September 2002 to become a machine gunner. Schumann arrived in Hawai'i in November 2002. Schumann is survived by his wife and parents. His awards include the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

1st Lt. Dustin Shumney was handsome, athletic and good to his family, friends in California said. He left behind a wife and three children in Texas. Shama Shumney, his mother, learned from two Marines who came to her doorstep Wednesday that her 30-year-old son had been killed. It wasn't an easy message to receive. "He just got my care package," the Marine's mother said. "When I asked him what he wanted he said gummy bears, so I bought him bags and bags of gummy bears." Shama Shumney said she hoped people would remember how brave her son was. She said he would want her to be strong and help to take care of his wife and children. "And he's still there for me," she said. "He'll always be there." This was Shumney's second tour in Iraq. He had planned to make the Marine Corps a career.

Cpl. Matthew Smith "died a hero and brave," his mother, Colleen Parkin, said. The 24-year-old from West Valley City, Utah, had been fighting insurgents in Fallujah before turning to a mission to support Sunday's elections. His father, Gary Smith, said his son had been in the Marines for nearly four years and had served in the Philippines, Japan and South Korea. The young Marine was a news junkie, always on the lookout for updates in magazines, newspapers and from his family, his father said.

Lance Cpl. Joseph Spence first asked permission to marry his childhood sweetheart, Elisabeth Bertsch, when he was 16 and she was 14. David and Gayle Bertsch, the girl's parents, said no way — (though privately they came to admire the kid's determination). But Spence, the oldest of three brothers, never gave up. He kept asking. "I must have told him no half a dozen times," said David Bertsch. Following boot camp, Spence, of Scotts Valley, Calif., showed up wearing his Marine uniform, and the Bertsches knew he was right for their daughter. Joe and Elisabeth were married on Dec. 28, 2002. The Kane'ohe-based couple had one child — Providence, now 4 months old. But by the time she was born, Spence had left for Fallujah. After Sept. 11, 2001, Spence joined the Marines because his father, Jim Spence, had been a leatherneck. The 23-year-old Marine never wavered in his resolve. "He gave up everything for this," said Bertsch. "He believed in it."

Lance Cpl. Michael L. Starr Jr., 21, of Baltimore, Md., reported for recruit training in May 2001, and attended the School of Infantry, Camp Lejeune, N.C., during September of 2001, where he trained to become a rifleman. He arrived in Hawai'i in October 2002. Starr traveled with his unit to the Middle East in September to conduct operations in support of the Global War on Terrorism. Starr is survived by his parents. His awards include the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

A visitor consoles Kay Etterling, right, at her home in Wheelersburg, Ohio. Etterling's son, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Edward Etterling, was killed Wednesday in the crash of a helicopter in Iraq.

Scott Osborne • Portsmouth Daily Times

Alexander and Lynn Kelly and their sons Ryan, left, and Jason, family of Cpl. Sean Kelly, talk with reporters about his death.

Chris LaChall • Courier-Post

The following Advertiser staff writers contributed to this report:

  • Mike Gordon
  • Will Hoover
  • David Waite
  • Kevin Dayton
  • Rod Ohira
  • Karen Blakeman
  • Curtis Lum

Also used were reports from the following media organizations:

  • The Ventura County Star
  • The News Review, southwestern Oregon
  • The Chicago Tribune
  • WDTN-TV, Dayton, Ohio
  • The Akron Beacon-Journal
  • Sioux Falls Argus Leader
  • Keloland Television
  • The Salinas Californian
  • KXAS-TV, Dallas, Texas
  • The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, WV
  • Star Tribune, Casper Wyoming
  • KSL TV, Utah
  • News Channel 5, Cleveland
  • The Associated Press
  • ABC 7, San Francisco
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune