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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gunshot kills Marine in Iraq

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Lance Cpl. Ray A. Spencer II

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Marine Lance Cpl. Ray A. Spencer II was shot in the chest and killed Thursday while on base in Anbar province in Iraq, his widow said yesterday, making Spencer at least the fifth noncombat-related death of a Hawai'i military member since early February.

The Marine who came to Athena Spencer's door to break the news of Spencer's death said an investigation continues, but said her husband did not commit suicide.

"They found him with a gunshot wound to the chest," Athena Spencer said yesterday from her parents' home in Orange County, Calif. "It was clearly from someone else. They said, 'Don't make any speculations that it was or wasn't another Marine.' They said it was nonhostile. It wasn't an enemy, but they said that could change."

The Department of Defense would only say that Spencer's death occurred from "a nonhostile incident" that is under investigation.

Spencer reported to Hawai'i in January 2007 as a rifleman assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, at Kane'ohe Bay.

His father had served in the Navy and Spencer joined the Marines at age 17, right after graduating from high school in Southern California in 2006.

"He wanted to be Marine infantry because they say it's the hardest thing to do," Athena said. "He wanted to protect his country."

Ray and Athena were introduced by friends via phone and e-mail. Their communications turned to romance during Spencer's first deployment to Iraq from August 2007 to February 2008. They met face-to-face for the first time in April 2008 and were married on June 18.

They were 20-year-old newlyweds who lived in a small studio apartment in Enchanted Lake in Kailua until Spencer shipped out this month for his second deployment to Iraq.

"He's just a genuinely sweet person," Athena said. "He respects women and people in general. He's never the type of guy to be rude. He was so polite and laid back, never aggressive."

His death has stunned the small town of Ridgecrest, a community of 28,000 people in the high desert of Southern California that has only one high school, Burroughs High School, according to Jim Selle, Burroughs' senior naval science instructor who taught Spencer as a Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps Navy cadet.

Spencer is the first Burroughs graduate to die in Iraq or Afghanistan, Selle said.

"It's a small town where everybody knows everybody," Selle said. "It's definitely got people talking."

The school plans a ceremony tomorrow in which cadets will lower the U.S. flag to half-staff and fire a cannon in Spencer's honor.

"He was a tall skinny kid who always had a smile on his face," Selle said. "I don't think I ever saw him without one. He came in and wanted to be a Marine and he was going to be a Marine. He achieved his goal."

Another of Spencer's JROTC instructors, George Anderson, said Spencer had a great sense of humor, blended with natural leadership.

"He was a very charismatic young man," Anderson said. "He could get his students to follow him into the jaws of death, which they would have ignored from other students."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.