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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, July 23, 2005

Families' courage, stoicism cited

By brian mcinnis
Advertiser Staff Writer

Robin Purcell, stepmother of Lance Cpl. Nicholas Kirven, receives a hug at the memorial for Kirven and Cpl. Richard Schoener yesterday at the Marine Corps Base in Kane'ohe. Schoener and Kirven were killed in Afghanistan on May 8 — Mother's Day.

rebecca breyer | The Honolulu Advertiser

Lt. Col. Norm Cooling comforts Bonnie J. Breaux, Lawrence Breaux, Jesyca M. Schoener, and Gavin Schoener, 5, at the memorial service yesterday for Lance Cpl. Nicholas Kirven and Cpl. Richard Schoener at the Marine Corps Base Hawai'i in Kane'ohe.
Corp. Jason Valencia hugs Sgt. Robert Campbell (in white shirt) at the memorial for Lcpl. Kirven and Cpl. Schoener at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe on Friday afternoon. Both Schoener and Kirven were killed on May 8th while conducting combat operations in the Alishang District of Laghman Province in Afghanistan.

After two Hawai'i-based Marines were killed in Afghanistan in May, their battalion commander, Lt. Col. Norm Cooling, made the most difficult phone calls of his life.

Cooling had called the mothers of Lance Cpl. Nicholas Kirven and Cpl. Richard Schoener, he said yesterday at a memorial ceremony for the two men at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i in Kane'ohe, where they had been stationed. They were killed May 8 — Mother's Day — while battling insurgents in the Alishang District of Laghman Province.

"During that call, I clearly saw where (the two) got their courage and selflessness," said Cooling to the families of both Marines and members of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment at the service.

Cooling described how Elizabeth Belle — Kirven's mother — and Bonnie Breaux — Schoener's mother — told him to take care of the other Marines stationed there.

"We just wanted them to get all the boys back home safe," Belle said. "We knew Nicholas was doing what he wanted to do."

Breaux was equally supportive.

"At first I was leery, because I knew something was going to happen (when Ricky enlisted)," she said. "But I'm so glad (his comrades) got to know the Marine I know."

Cooling was impressed by the women's stoicism and courage.

"At a time like that, in an hour of deepest despair and personal tragedy, you thought not of your own grief, but of us, our safety, and our families," said Cooling. "That's selflessness, and that's courage, and that's what Ricky and Nick were all about."

Their platoon commander, 1st Lt. Sam Monte, attested to the bravery and work ethic of the pair, who were each team leaders — in charge of four Marines — in their 2nd Platoon, 2nd Squad of Kilo Company.

"They were the first Marines ready for anything," Monte said. "They kept us going, never gave up. They were our brothers."

Kirven, 21, of Richmond, Va., and Schoener, 22, of Bell City, La., were pursuing about 20 insurgents along with their dozen squadmates through local villages when Monte learned that the enemy planned an ambush, he said.

A firefight ensued after some of the squad members crossed a river and scaled a 1,000-foot embankment. The two team leaders were at the front of the group, Monte said.

Kirven was confirmed to have killed one fighter with his grenade launcher, and while Kirven and Schoener inspected the body, they noticed movement in a nearby cave. It was suspected to be occupied by the enemy, so it had been "softened up" by air strikes first, Monte said.

When the pair went to investigate, they were ambushed with small arms fire. They managed to alert their squadmates before being killed by a fragmentation grenade, he said.

Both Marines were awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, which Cooling presented, wrapped in American flags, to their parents.

"(The service) opens everything back up again but it makes us feel better," Belle said of her family.

"The hardest thing to do is hear about who (our son) was," Breaux said.

Kirven's father Rusty, brother Joseph Belle, sister Mary Pride Kirven, stepfather Mike Belle, and stepmother Robin Purcell also flew in to attend the ceremony.

Schoener's stepfather Lawrence Breaux, sister Jesyca Schoener, and nephew Gavin also attended.