The Corps pays final tribute to Marines

Photo by 2nd Lt. Sin Carrano

Photo by 2nd Lt. Sin Carrano

March 18 will be a day etched with so many people … from the residents of Hawthorne to the friends and family members of seven Marines who were killed in a live-fire training exercise on the Hawthorne Army Depot grounds to the Marines who paid tribute to their fallen comrades in a memorial service at Camp Lejeune, N.C. earlier this week.

In additional to the fallen Marines, the incident also injured seven Marines and a Navy corpsman.

A tragedy such as this brings many different communities together — both civilian and military — no matter how many miles separate them. Although the seven Marines who died on that March night did not grow up or live in Silver State, Nevadans, nevertheless, have felt the pain and mourned alongside their brethren in paying their final respects.

The Marines memorialized on Tuesday were Pfc. Joshua M. Martino, 19, of Clearfield, Pa.; Lance Corporals David P. Fenn II, Roger W. Muchnick Jr., Joshua C. Taylor, Mason J. Vanderwork, William T. Wild IV and Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda.

In his remarks, battalion commander Lt. Col. Andrew J. McNulty said ... “now is the time to embrace their spirits.”

McNulty then praised the Northern Nevada community.

“We are forever indebted to Reno’s police department standing guard at the hospital and teaming up with the exceptional Renown Medical Center’s staff to ensure the very best support for our wounded … Simultaneously the great people of Hawthorne held a memorial service and a fund raising spaghetti dinner for men and families they did not know, men that were mere interlopers in their lives.

“Before we came home, the 152d Airlift Wing of the Nevada Air National Guard, replete with an unpaid squadron of drilling reservists and the State’s adjutant general, stood in formation as we conducted our dignified transfer of remains from Reno to Dover as our fallen angels began their journey home.”

After the battalion returned home to North Carolina, seven funerals were conducted in 10 days.

McNulty also read a poem that was inlcuded in a letter writen by Ripperda to his sister on Thanksgiving that displayed the spirit of the Marines.

Even though I’m far away,

do not be sad on this special day.

I know you miss me, and I miss you too.

I feel like a foot that is missing its shoe.

But soon I’ll be home and it will be just like before,

Will and I will drink lots of beers, of that I am sure.

I love all of my family, and all of my friends,

and like all things, this deployment will end.

So enjoy this day, I am with you in spirit,

but don’t tell me how good the food is,

I don’t want to hear it.

“As we memorialize their spirits, let us live by the examples they set,” McNulty added.

“Throughout, we continued to encounter the spirit of America and were reminded of the spirit of our men everywhere we turned. In Dubois, Pa., thousands of men, women and children lined the streets with flags in hand as the snow fell when we laid Lance Cpl. Martino to rest. Lance Cpl. Muchnick’s community provided superior support as he was buried alongside his fallen great uncle who was lost in Vietnam. We buried Lance Cpl. Taylor alongside Revolutionary War generals and fallen men from nearly every other war in America’s history in Mound Cemetery, Marietta, Ohio.

“Even on Camp Lejeune, volunteer community service organizations such as the Patriot Guard Riders were present as we spread Lance Cpl. Vanderwork’s ashes at both Onslow Beach and in his hometown of Hickory, N.C. Lance Cpl. Wild’s classic burial by men from Marine Barracks 8th & me at Arlington brought a tear to everyone’s eyes. When we bid farewell to Cpl. Ripperda, the flagman and his 2,280 10-foot tall flagpoles with flags in Highland, Ill., was present. During Lance Cpl. Fenn’s funeral procession, workers from local businesses were on the streets to pay homage. Walking with Fenn were Walking Dead alumni, present to comfort family and friends and pay their respects to our current generation of Marines.”

Company commander, Capt. Kelby Breivogel revealed an impromptu tribute:

“I’d like to share with all of you something that was inscribed on a memorial near Range 500 on Hawthorne Army Depot, “Breivogel said. “A memorial built from rocks, knives, scrap metal stakes, and rank insignia. It reads: ‘Brother, you may be gone but you will live through us.’ Amidst the tragedy and sadness of losing these fine young men, this is a time for continuing actions and resiliency.”

Breivogel said their commitment must be enduring.

“Commitment to train hard and shrug off adversity. Commitment to draw from the experiences with these Marines, and prepare ourselves for the next challenge — be it on the battlefield, a classroom, or a fluctuating job market.

“Face these challenges with the same composure and dedication that you demonstrated at the scene of incident on 18 March. In a scene worse than you have or will likely face in Afghanistan/Iraq, your actions in that terrible moment were calm and fluid. You rose to meet gruesome hardship head-on and matched the heroic lore of The Walking Dead. NCO’s took charge of the scene. Lance corporals took charge of the wounded, while corpsmen feverishly worked to assess and treat injuries. And our privates first class and privates executed tasks with unflinching obedience to orders. You honored the legacy of these Marines, and I know you will continue to carry their legacy with you.”

Corporal Erdman: I have a lot of memories of Aaron even though it’s been only a few short years that I have known him. We traveled throughout the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region on our first deployment. Our second deployment together was to only one country but a bit more memorable. And the countless time spent at my house stateside. I always remember a kind, smiling man.

“He knew his job and did it well but the most favorable impression was his personality. Always willing to help, to laugh in the face of stress, and always giving sound advice. I can honestly say I have never met a more admirable man whose actions when done by oneself will only make him or her a better person.”

Lance Corporal Clukey: “I first met David (Fenn) last summer when some Weapons Company guys came to Alpha for the deployment to Kuwait. How I met him was one morning after PT. I came back to my room to see some random guy walking out of my shower, then proceeded to sit in my chair and then he left. I was thinking to myself who the hell is this guy and why was he in my room. Little did I know at the time that David would become one of my best friends.

“I got to know David very well in Kuwait by going to the gym and to eat with him and especially when we were standing post. A lot of guys in the platoon would joke with us about be together all the time. It didn’t take long for me to realize that David was a very well-spirited person and had a great sense of humor. You would never catch him without a smile on his face even in the worst of times. He didn’t let things get to his head so you would rarely if ever see him in a bad mood. One day I asked him why he never got angry and he told me that he felt nothing in life was worth being angry over. However, in Kuwait a couple times he almost got angry. “Once was when I blew a water bottle up and he got covered in water and the other was when I kicked the chair out from underneath him on post. If you ever had a problem or issue David was a person you could go to and he would listen to whatever you had to say and would try and help you to the best of his ability to help with your problem or situation you had. He helped me a lot in Kuwait in a few situations. When it came to running, David was probably one of the fastest if not the fastest guy in the company. He ran every day and if you didn’t know he even ran a marathon last summer after we got

back from Afghanistan. I was glad to have met a person who loved to run just as much as me.”

Private First Class Davies: “I first came to the fleet on Jan. 25. For those of you that don’t know, it can be pretty scary being the new guy in the platoon so us new joins tend to stick together. When I first met Josh (Martino), I could tell he was a different kind of person by his outgoingness. And not the fake what’s up where are you from outgoing but a genuine interest in befriending you. After a few days in the field and many more back at the barracks it didn’t take long for Josh and I to develop a close friendship.

“We shared many similarities such as interests and hobbies but the real reason I held Josh as such a close friend was his unselfishness and overall uplifting personality. For those of you that knew him Josh loved to talk ...

“When we were at Bridgeport our friendship only grew. We established that I was going to go ho home with him for Easter and meet everyone he so graciously talked about. He asked me to be the best man at his wedding, and I was honored to be a part of such a big part of his life. It felt great knowing I had a friend like him, a friend that would put aside their wants and needs to help you. I’m reminded of a night on the mountain when I went to BAS. While I was gone, the company had dug their T-trenches for the night and bedded down. When I returned I found Josh and another friend digging my T-trench in my aspens.

“This is just one of many actions that show what kind of person Josh Martino was. And for anyone who knew him well I’m sure 100 memories of what a great guy he was just popped into your head. I often think about the last conversation I had with Josh just a few hours before the incident. We talked about our plans for what we were going to do back in his home town. All the people I had to meet, and places I had to see. Most important on the list was sheets. I know that Josh is happy that I did get to meet the people he loved and go to the places he enjoyed despite the circumstance. Something that I strongly believe is that is that Josh would want us to celebrate his life and not drive ourselves mad with grief.

Lance Corporal Coles: “I know many of you did not have the pleasure of knowing Roger Wolfe Muchnick personally but hopefully after this, you will all have an appreciation of what a unique and amazing person Rog really was.

“The first time I met Roger Muchnick was in SOI. As anyone who knew him is fully aware of, his personality was infectious. He was always laughing, joking around, and constantly providing entertainment for those around him. Anyone who spent time with Rog will tell you, he’s not a person you would easily forget, and he was definitely a person that it would be impossible to miss. No matter how bad any situation, no matter how upset anyone was, you could count on Rog to lighten the mood.

“He was always the center of attention, because he was such an entertaining individual that the spotlight was naturally drawn to him. Never one to shy away from filling you in about his glory days on the lacrosse fields, or informing you about his numerous hard partying stories from before the Marine Corps. That was Rog. If he was

better then you at something trust me you would know it, from playing pool, to racquetball, or even shooting. Everything was a competition to him, and he hated losing.

“Roger lived life to the fullest, and tried to enjoy every moment he had. He saw the good in people, and the positive in life. He loved his family, and his brothers in arms. He was a good Marine, a great friend, a wonderful brother, a caring son, and an all-around amazing human being. I loved him like my own flesh and blood. He may have been taken from us too soon, and the pain and sadness still remains, but the mark he left on life, and on us all will never be forgotten. He will never truly die, because he will be remembered by those who loved him and cared about him forever. He lives on through all of us here today, through our thoughts our prayers and our actions.”

Lance Corporal Laylon: “Josh Taylor was one of the greatest guys I’ve had the privilege of meeting. He always wanting to help people and better himself. His dedication to his religion really stuck out to all of us. No matter how pushed for time he was he always made room for his religion. He used to come into my room every Sunday and wake me up, bright and early. At first I didn’t catch on but after weeks of this, I knew he was trying to get me to come to church with him. After a few weeks I gave in and decided to go to church with him. When we arrived at his church everyone there started greeting him and welcoming him back because we were at Kuwait.

“I’m pretty sure everyone in the church knew Josh by first name basis. Even when we were out in the field, Josh would always be reading his Bible. I would watch him go up to Chaps regularly and ask him when the next service was and what they would be doing. No matter what Josh was doing he always made room. Whenever people would come up to us and tell us there was a church service at so and so time Josh would immediately stop what he was doing and listen in. He wanted to be the first one to hear when and the first to be there.

“For all of you who knew Josh. you also know that he had a passion for guns. Josh owned a Kimber 1911 which he loved. Almost every weekend he would go down to the shooting range and shoot. He loved shooting and he was pretty good at it. He could also

tell you the history of any weapon … Before anything his fiance Abbey and his family came first. There’s not a day that went by that Josh wasn’t talking about Abbey or his family. I learned so much about him and his family. He would tell me about going home and playing board games with his family, or going to his friend Billy’s house shooting automatic weapons. He had these videos on his phone of him and Abbey shooting all sorts of weapons. He would ask me at least once a week to watch these videos on his phone. I must have seen them at least a dozen times.

“Josh also had a passion for weight lifting. not only weight lifting but Crossfit with Skaggs as well. He wanted to be as physically fit as he could. I remember in Kuwait he finally reached the “300 club” in bench press. He was so happy he was showing everyone. He’s wanted to reach that goal since high school. Josh could also hang clean more than anyone I know. I’ve never seen someone want to hang clean let alone hang clean as much as Josh would. I would have to get my own bar because it would take me a while to take all the weight off of his. Josh also loved to swim. I know he use to swim in high school and he missed it a lot. Josh has inspired all of us to be greater men. He was so loving and caring and wanted to make everyone happy.

“Josh is in a place we call heaven, the place he cared most about. He is watching over us and will always be here with us.”

Lance Corporal Bedolli: “Today we have gathered one final time together to mourn the loss of the seven men who passed at Hawthorne the night of March 18, and I have been given the privilege of speaking for Lance Cpl. Mason “Sid” Vanderwork, a man who lived a simple life, his quiet laid-back personality was a testament of the man he was: humble, caring, but also one who looked out for others and would help anyway he could.

“He cherished the things he had, notably his Mustang which he spoke of religiously, whether it be all the upgrades he wanted to do to it, or how much he thought it was the best performing car on base. He loved his wife, Taylor, whom he loved and cared for more than anything, using any minute he could find during the day to talk to her, and complained any minute he couldn’t.

“Mason was easy to hold conversation with even if his first days in Alpha company he was very quiet and preferred to keep to his own, notably upset about his move from 81s to 60s. Eventually, he began to come around, and was a valuable asset to our platoon.”

Lance Corporal Herring: William Taylor Wild grew up with a love for baseball, and a love for his friends and family. He joined the Marine Corps shortly after his graduation from high school where he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, Weapons Company as a mortarman. He excelled quickly. From day one in the fleet he was constantly bettering himself. Whether it was physically or mentally, he proved himself time after time under stress. Whether it was in combat or in the classroom. Wild was without doubt a man with goals in which he planned to obtain.

When he first hit the fleet in early May of 2010, he seemed very timid and nervous, as is expected of new Marines during their first few months around seniors. But that didn’t last long at all. After a couple weeks, Wild was in full swing. He had a very sarcastic sense of humor, smug attitude and a knack for quick learning, which led everybody to loving him. Whenever things got rough, he could always crack a joke, and flash his big goofy smile to brighten everybody up. He knew when to be serious and when to joke around. He was always testing people to see how far he could get with them, but never far enough to cause any trouble.

“Once our deployment in Afghanistan ended and we returned back to Lejeune, Wild’s ambition to lead did not end. He knew that most of our seniors would be getting out soon, and that somebody was going to have to take over. Soon after our return, he was selected to go to Mortar Leaders Course. He stated that he didn’t enjoy the long hours, but loved all of the information that he was learning. While there, he met mortarmen from throughout the battalion, including one of which was to become one of his best friends, Roger Muchnick...

“Whenever we deployed to Kuwait, Wild was given the name Billy, which he very openly hated. That only caused it to stick. Billy’s leadership abilities really began to really show during Kuwait. He was assigned a team leaders billet, and was in charge of leading QRF patrols. He was never really afraid of how people viewed him as a person, but was afraid of letting people down. He took his leadership roles very seriously but was able to separate his friends from his work, and get things done without ever raising his voice or making any of the Marines under him feel as though they were being singled out.

>“A few weeks after our return from Kuwait, we were sent off to the mountains of Bridgeport to conduct mountain training as part of a work-up package for our upcoming deployment. While there, despite the horrid weather conditions, lack of motivation, and continuous training, Billy still maintained his composure. When we weren’t training, he could be found with his two new Marines teaching them knowledge, or how to lead through example. He always had a notebook in his pocket that he used to write down information that he deemed necessary to retain, or for a quick reference to answer a question that someone might ask. He was always on top of it...

>“10 p.m. March 18th, 2013, marked the end of Billy’s physical life, but not the end of all of the memories and lessons he has shared. He made an impact whether big or small on almost everyone present today. Even though he is now gone, there are traces of his life everywhere. Whenever you see an Orioles hat or a Harry Potter book or even a can of Nati Bo, that’s Billy. A quote that Billy planned on getting tattooed whenever we returned from Bridgeport was “Never Alone, Never Forgotten.” I don’t think a truer quote exists. In his life, he was never alone, and now that he is gone, he will never be forgotten.

> Chaplain, Navy Lieutenant Charles Ferguson: “Five weeks ago, our lives changed forever. Nothing can change that. Nothing can erase that day. It was a night of chaos and carnage that gave way to a day of beauty and courage. I don’t want to forget that night, I couldn’t even if I wanted to. We owe it to Ripp, Josh, Joshua, Billy, Rog, Mason and David to remember that night. But, we owe it to them to remember not just the tragic but also the good and heroic. And what better way to honor the events of March 18t and the men of Hawthorne than to reflect on what it means to be a Deadwalker.

> “Most normal people would recoil at the prospect of joining an organization nicknamed the Walking Dead. That or they would think it’s just a fan club of the TV show where they could hunt zombies. Like many of you, when I received word I was coming to 1/9 I went to the two sources of all information, Google and Wikipedia, to learn the history of my new unit.

>“After reading the history of the unit and discovering the unit called themselves the Walking Dead, I found the name a bit morbid and chalked it and the Grim Reaper logo up to the infantry obsession with skulls. And two years ago, like many outside our unit, I would have thought it odd to call someone a good Deadwalker. But, after March 18 we know there is honor and deep meaning in wearing the title of Deadwalker.

> “So what does it mean to lay claim to the name Deadwalker? What sets us apart from other people? Other units? For the guests who aren’t familiar with the unit’s history, our name came from the time those who walked before us spent in Vietnam. After a particularly difficult and brutal battle we had suffered the worst day for the Corps in Vietnam both in sheer numbers and in percentage of casualties. One Viet Cong General reportedly stated that we were never going to win and were essentially walking towards our death and burial and called us the Walking Dead. That nickname was even broadcast over Vietnamese propaganda radio by the infamous Hanoi Hanna encouraging us to go ahead and die. We embraced that name, but not in the way they expected. They had no clue what made up a member of the Walking Dead. Even death itself cannot defeat a Deadwalker.

>“Today we remember seven men who embodied everything it means to be a part of the Walking Dead. As you have heard from many others today, these seven Marines weren’t just great Marines, they were outstanding young men who had much to offer the world. They had already made a positive difference here in the unit as well as their communities back home. These men looked death in the face on the night of March 18th and just grinned because they knew death wasn’t getting the final say in their lives.

>“Death will always lose when it is up against infantry Marines that are willing to argue with each other that they are the best potential date for Taylor Swift.

>“Death doesn’t stand a chance against the sarcasm of these Marines.

>“Death’s darkness can’t overcome the illuminating smiles and powerful sense of humor of these men. Death can’t bully men who refuse to succumb to peer pressure.

>“Death can’t recover from men who will do anything to save their brothers and put others above their own safety in a time of need.

>“Death’s grip isn’t strong enough to compete against the beauty of a simple memorial of rocks and chevrons created by brothers in arms. The fear of death will always be

>overwhelmed by lives that inspire thousands of people in communities around this country to come out and pay respects to their fallen sons.

>“Men such as these change lives for good and are the shoulders that the Corps stands upon. We take men such as these for granted because we expect great things from them. Men like Ripp, Joshua, Rog, Billy, Josh, David and Mason defeat death because they show us how to live. Their bodies are buried, but their lives will continue on and their impact will multiply as we live lives that honor the way in which they changed our lives for good.

> “We call this battalion the Walking Dead and the men Deadwalkers not because they are walking around awaiting death or because of a morbid sense of humor. No, we call ourselves Deadwalkers because we walk through death with no fear. We show death it is nothing in the face of such men. Time and again, death has tried to defeat this battalion. Time and again, death has lost because we live lives inspired by men such as Josh, Billy, Mason, Joshua, Ripp, David and Rog. Lives that inspire others to live well. Lives that death can’t extinguish. So the next time the Battalion Commander ends a formation with his familiar call and response, don’t look at it as cheesy false motivation.

>“Answer his call with pride that you are part of this storied unit and that you are willing to honor the lives of these seven and all those before you who proudly bear the name Deadwalker.”

Steve Ranson is editor of the LVN. A shorter version of the USMC tribute appears in the April 26, 2013, edition of the LVN.


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