Nevada Marine was loving husband, father, hero
April 21, 2003
SPARKS, Nev. (AP) — More than 300 people filled a church Saturday to remember Lance Cpl. Donald John Cline as a loving husband and devoted father who “had no quit in him” and died a hero defending people he didn’t know.
“All of us owe an eternal debt of love to John Cline and all the men and women who have given their lives so that we all can live free,” said the Rev. Earl Morley, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Sparks.
Cline, 21, Sparks, was among the first Marines killed in Iraq on March 23, leaving behind a widow, Tina Cline, 22, and two sons, Dakota, 2, and Dylan, 7 months. His remains were finally identified last week.
“These words on their family car say it all, ‘Our daddy fights for your freedom, the U.S. Marine Corps,”‘ Morley said.
Steve Sweringen, Tina Cline’s stepfather, said Cline’s life seemed so complete when he met Tina and they had two sons. But then “duty and country called,” he said.
“He fought and defended the weak and defenseless… Under fire, he and his comrades fell while protecting people they didn’t even know,” he said.
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Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Sparks Mayor Tony Armstrong were among those who attended the 70-minute funeral service Saturday capped with a traditional 21-gun salute. Dozens of floral arrangements and wreaths filled the front of the church, some white ribbons that said “Hero” and “Gone But Not Forgotten.”
Several veterans saluted as six Marines escorted the flag-draped black casket down the church aisle, followed immediately by a tearful Tina Cline, accompanied by her parents Tamme Sweringen of Sun Valley, and Van Bryson, of Bismark, N.D., and Cline’s mother, Cynthia Fulton-Cline, of Sierra Madre, Calif.
Josh Tucker of Dallas, Texas, a close friend and fellow Marine who was based with Cline at Camp Lejeune, N.C., said all Marines “have a special camaraderie.
“We have to depend on each other. You have to know your brother next to you is ready to lay down his life just as quick as you yourself are, and John did that,” Tucker said during the eulogy. “I know, Tina, he loves you more than you’ll ever know and he loves his two boys and he’s watching us right now.”
Marine Lt. Allen Unger said a prayer for the family.
“I pray their emptiness will be filled with fond memories and the solemn pride of knowing he paid the ultimate sacrifice as part of the cost of fighting against terrorism and freeing oppressed people half way around the world,” Unger said.
One of the more emotional moments came when Matt Sikora — a teenage cousin who said Cline “was like the older brother I never had” — played the guitar and sang a song he wrote, “Posthumous,” which he said “is about carrying on after someone is dead.”
The service included a 20-minute slide show with background music and photos of Cline growing up, meeting Tina and with their children. It began with a recording of Roberta Flack’s, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and included songs by Richard Marx, a favorite of the couple.
The photos twice prompted quiet laughter from the congregation, including one of Dakota pushing Cline on a tricycle and another with Dakota trying on his father’s Marine camouflage clothing with his naked behind sticking out.
Many of the photos were tacked to bulletin boards outside the sanctuary, including Cline and Dakota decorating a Christmas tree, showing off a pumpkin and washing the car. Also displayed were letters Tina received from Cline in Iraq, including one addressed to Dakota, dated Feb. 23:
“I can’t wait to come home to see you so we can play again. Just like you said, we can got to the park and go to Chuckee Cheese’s (sic) and play in the balls and go on the slide like we did last time. I have spent everyday away from you thinking about you.”
Cline was a big basketball fan and loved to play the game despite his relatively small size, 5-foot-5, family members said.
“Tina told me through tears of remembrance that he was undersized and had big ears. To a drill instructor, that is like saying sic ’em to a bulldog,” Morley said, drawing laughter from the congregation.
“But he was determined to be a good soldier, a good Marine, and there was no quit in him.
“When men join the Marine Corps they know on the front end they must be willing to fight and die for just causes,” he said.
“Each step of the way, he could have said, ‘No.’ … But he was made of sterner stuff. He had the grit and the toughness to be a Marine.”
A family friend said Cline’s remains would be cremated Monday. Staff Sgt. Bradley Miller said they would be interned at a Reno-area veterans cemetery.