Kane'ohe base honors its dead
By Brittany Yap
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brittany Yap
Joyce Bertolino knelt in front of her son's empty desert boots, helmet and inverted M-16 rifle and wept.
The mother of Pfc. Matthew Bertolino, killed in Afghanistan on Feb. 9, fought back tears yesterday at a memorial service for her son and three others at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i in Kane'ohe.
"Matt was very special — the light of our lives," said Bertolino, from Hampstead, N.H. "I know he was doing what he wanted to do."
Three Marines and a sailor killed this year in Afghanistan were remembered by fellow Marines, dignitaries and family. Honored were Bertolino, Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Anderson, Marine Lance Cpl. Billy Brixey Jr., and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class John Fralish.
The service was the first such memorial at the Marine base this year, and served as a powerful reminder of the toll the war has taken on the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
During the battalion's separate deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan: eight Marines were killed in a suicide car bomb attack, 26 Marines and a sailor died in a helicopter crash, and 11 others died, most of them in what is now called the Battle of Fallujah.
The battalion returned in May after a five-month deployment to Afghanistan.
The base also has seen Marines from other units die in Iraq. Twelve members of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, have been killed since the unit deployed there in March.
In all, 140 members of the military with Hawai'i ties have died in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait since the spring of 2003.
At yesterday's memorial, fellow Marines spoke of how the fallen believed in what they were fighting for.
Bertolino's mother agreed.
"He felt a calling, a duty," Bertolino said of her son. "He wanted to join for quite a while. When he was of age he enlisted on his own."
Matthew Bertolino, 20, was killed when the vehicle he was riding in rolled over during a combat patrol near Jalalabad, Afghanistan. His mother said she had last seen her son in December, when he was home for three weeks. She said she was very grateful to meet the Marines who had spent the last few weeks of his life with him.
Anderson, 21, of Sauk City, Wis., was killed March 13 in a nonhostile vehicle accident during a patrol in Afghanistan.
After the service, his mother, Barbara Anderson, showed one of her son's friends a picture of his motorcycle, a 2004 Harley Davidson Fatboy. After her son's death, she inherited his bike and a day before coming to Hawai'i, she got her motorcycle license.
"I think he lived his life freely," said his father, Jim Anderson. "He was always happy when he was on his Harley."
Brixey, 21, of Ferriday, La., died Jan. 27 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, from wounds received when an improvised explosive device exploded while he was traveling in a convoy in Afghanistan Jan. 25.
His battalion commander, Lt. Col. James Bierman, described Brixey as a "tenacious mechanic" and a man of God who read the Bible every night. Brixey didn't need to be in Afghanistan because his service was up, but he wanted to serve with his fellow Marines, Bierman said.
Fralish, 30, of New Kingstown, Pa., was killed in action Feb. 6 from small-arms fire during a patrol in Laghman province.
"He did more than his job," said Lance Cpl. Elias Kenning, who served with Fralish. "He was a guy you could be with, and just talk to."
As the four were honored, their families were given lei and the women received bouquets.
"It's nice to know people care," Barbara Anderson said.
Reach Brittany Yap at email@example.com.