Hawthorne mourns deaths of 7 Marines
March 21, 2013
Seven explosion victims identified
By The Associated Press
AARON RIPPERDA, 26
Ripperda was a football player while he attended high school in Highland, Ill., near St. Louis. He was respectful and hardworking, according to Highland High School Assistant Principal Karen Gauen, and “definitely had the discipline for the military.”
Ripperda had dreams of becoming a professional chef. His aunt, Beverly Lesicko, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he joined the Marines for a chance to explore the world. He was scheduled to come home in May.
JOSH TAYLOR, 21
Marine Lance Cpl. Taylor, who worked with mortars and served tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait, had dreamed being in the Corps since watching the History Channel as a boy. He joined right after graduating from a high school in Marietta, Ohio, in 2010.
Taylor’s grandfather, Larry Stephens, said Taylor was engaged to be married, with a wedding planned for May.
His fiancee’s father called him an exceptional person.
“You don’t meet many young men like him today,” Keith Malone told The Marietta Times. “He was respectful to everyone, very humble, just happy, happy all the time.”
Taylor is also survived by three sisters and a brother.
ROGER MUCHNICK, 23
Muchnick, who’d been in the Marines for about three years, had served in Afghanistan and was considering returning to college after his enlistment was up. He played high school lacrosse and football in Westport, Conn., and later played lacrosse at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he studied business.
In a biography on the university’s website, Muchnick said the one thing he would like to do before he died was “live,” and his most embarrassing moment was getting caught lip-synching in a school talent show.
“He was at the top of his game when this happened,” said his grandfather, Jerome Muchnick. “You can’t imagine losing a very handsome, 23-year-old grandson who was vital and loving.”
JOSH MARTINO, 19
Pfc. Martino, who hailed from Dubois, Pa., and was preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan, aspired to be a Marine since boyhood.
“Since he was probably 8 years old he wanted to be a Marine,” said his mother, Karen Perry. “That’s all he wanted to do.”
Martino was a talkative former high school athlete and accomplished hunter who hoped to marry his fiancee later this year, Perry said.
His mother said she first heard a radio news report about the Monday accident, then three Marines arrived at her workplace to say her son was among the seven dead.
WILLIAM TAYLOR WILD IV, 21
Lance Cpl. Wild joined the Marines shortly after graduating in 2010 from Severna Park High School near Annapolis, Md. His mother, Elizabeth Wild, said he was in a weapons platoon that was scheduled to deploy in November to Afghanistan. He already had been deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait.
Wild said her son always wanted to go into the military, like his father, who is a command chief in the Air Force Reserve at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
DAVID FENN II, 20
Lance Cpl. Fenn, who was from Polk City, Fla., enlisted with the Marine Corps in June 2010. He was promoted to his current rank nine months later. Fenn, who served as a mortarman, received numerous accolades including a Combat Action Ribbon and National Defense Service Medal. He was last deployed in 2011 to Afghanistan.
MASON VANDERWORK, 21
Lance Cpl. Vanderwork, who was last deployed in 2011 to serve in the war in Afghanistan, was a native of Hickory, N.C. Vanderwork joined the Marines in June 2010 and was promoted to his current rank by August 2011. He received several awards including the National Defense Service Medal.
HAWTHORNE — Hundreds of residents in a rural community steeped in military history turned out to mourn the loss of seven Marines as investigators arrived at an ammunition depot to try to determine how a mortar shell exploded at the Nevada base and sent shrapnel flying into troops during a training exercise.
Families with children clutching small American flags were among the nearly 300 people who attended the brief memorial service Tuesday, where a trumpeter played taps at a city park as a giant American flag flew at half-staff across the street from the base at dusk.
Marine officers from Camp Lejeune, N.C., who arrived at the Hawthorne Army Depot on Tuesday, could not attend the memorial, as they began the task of figuring out what caused a mortar shell to explode in its firing tube. The accident prompted the Pentagon to restrict the use of the weapons until an investigation can determine their safety, officials said.
"Although this is a very difficult time for the entire depot and our small town, we will continue to work closely with the Marine Corps during this tragic incident," said Lt. Col. Craig M. Short, commander of the Hawthorne Army Depot, in a statement Wednesday.
The explosion Monday night at the sprawling facility involved the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune. Seven men were killed and eight were injured, officials said. A Navy corpsman is among those hurt.
Hawthorne has been an important installation in American military history since World War II, when it was the staging area for ammunition, bombs and rockets. The 230-square-mile facility has downsized in recent years but still serves as a munitions repository and disposal site, along with being a training facility for troops as they take advantage of terrain and climate similar to places like Afghanistan.
Even though the Marines were from the other side of the country, locals still feel a strong sense of pride in the military because the town's history is so deeply tied to the armed forces.
The town calls itself "America's Patriotic Home" and is home to the Hawthorne Ordnance Museum, which displays hundreds of shells, munitions, battery guns and weapons dating to World War II. Storefronts carry names like Patriot's Plaza. The sign on a business Thursday carried the message, "Please Pray For Our Marines."
"The evening of March 18, 2013, will forever be remembered as a moment of profound tragedy in Mineral County," District Attorney Sean Rowe told the memorial service. "You have given meaning to the phrase, 'America's Patriotic Home.'"
Meanwhile, training, drill and routine continued Wednesday at Camp Lejeune. A patrol of about a dozen Marines marched at the direction of a drill master. Service men and women filtered into a recreation center to pass time between tasks. Barracks for single officers were desolate as Marines reported to their assignments.
The 50,000 uniformed troops based along North Carolina's southeastern coast rallied around their fallen as notices went out to family and brothers in arms.
The impact of the accident was immediately felt.
According to U.S. military and Marine officials, use of 60 mm mortars has been suspended by the Marine Corps, but there is an exemption for troops in Afghanistan. Marine units on the warfront may continue to use the 60 mm mortars with the review and approval of their commanders. U.S. military officials in Afghanistan said they have not stopped using the mortars there.
The suspension largely affects units that are training, although those Marines could use the larger and more powerful 81 mm mortar systems if needed.
Officials said the suspension will be effective until the investigation into the accident has been completed. After that, they said it is likely the suspension would be lifted.
The U.S. Army has halted the use of the two lots of ammunition that were involved in the accident. Army officials have issued no similar broader ban.
The 60 mm mortar is a weapon that traditionally requires three to four Marines to operate, but it's common during training for others to observe nearby.
The mortar has changed little since World War II and remains one of the simplest weapons to operate, which is why it is found at the lowest level of infantry units, said Joseph Trevithick, a mortar expert with Global Security.org.
"Basically, it's still a pipe and it's got a firing pin at the bottom," Trevithick said. Still, a number of things could go wrong, such as a fuse malfunction, a problem with the barrel's assembly, or a round prematurely detonating inside the tube, he said.
Renown hospital emergency physician Dr. Michael Morkin said at a Reno news conference that some of the injured Marines he treated were conscious and "knew something happened but didn't know what." Morkin said the Marines mostly suffered blunt force trauma from shrapnel.
"They're injuries of varying severity … to varying parts of the body. They're complicated injuries to deal with," he said.
The Hawthorne depot opened in 1930, and has seen three other fatal explosions since then, according to retired Nevada state archivist Guy Rocha.
An Oct. 1, 1951, blast killed five people, another on Sept. 3, 1966, killed two men, and a rocket explosion on May 26, 1971, killed three, Rocha said.