Profiles of Young Heroes Killed In Tragic Mortar Blast In Nevada

This is a syndicated post from Politics to Parenting and Everything in Between. [Read the original article...]

Such a tragic accident. Not that it is any more or less tragic when the lives of our military heroes are lost on the battlefield, but when they are lost in a senseless accident or in any other way such as the Ft. Hood terrorist attack on our own land it seems worse. They were all so young and vibrant and had so much to live for. I mourn their loss with their families because they were willing to join the military and protect our country and defend and preserve our freedoms. I pray for their families and for the families of those injured and hope those injured recover soon. Sadly, one remains “very seriously injured”. As a daughter of a WWII veteran who is reaching his 91st birthday, or at least I pray he does this summer, my heart is always thinking of our military and the young men and women in harms way. I pray we can end the war soon and do it in a manner our military can be proud of.

I fear many feel like we left Iraq too soon and all the lives lost were sacrificed for nothing, but I commend all who served and did the job they were sent to do. I hope they find peace knowing they did their best and removed a dictator, but unfortunately most of the chemical weapons, WMD’s, were already moved into Syria before we invaded Iraq. Now Syria has them and they are at risk of getting into the hands of the opposition/rebels, otherwise known as Al Qaeda, who are trying to remove Assad. I don’t expect things to go well if we have to get involved in yet another war over there while trying to end the Afghanistan war after 12 years. Pray our military leaders will stay out of yet another Middle East war which could evolve into a greater threat from Iran, Russia and China.

Marine Corps Times:


Former Marines and family members gathered in Hawthorne, Nevada, to pay their respects to seven Marines killed during a training accident.


WHO THEY WERE

Lance Cpl. Mason Vanderwork loved going to the beach and cruising in his Mustang convertible. He and his wife, Taylor, married the day after she graduated high school and hoped to start a family.
Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, of Hickory, N.C., was killed with six other Marines in an explosion during a Nevada training exercise on March 18.
MARINE CORPS VIA AP
Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, of Hickory, N.C., was killed with six other Marines in an explosion during a Nevada training exercise on March 18.
The 21-year-old loved being a Marine and had a tattoo emblazoned on his chest, she said, that read: “Sacrifice. Without fear there is no courage.”
He was among the Marines killed in a desert training accident this week — most of them young men not yet weathered by life’s hardships.
Lance Cpl. Vanderwork loved his 19-year-old wife, Taylor, his Mustang convertible and going to North Carolina’s beaches.
But he loved being a Marine the most, his young widow recalled through tears Thursday.
“He loved what he did. He took his job very seriously. But the mortars weren’t supposed to be the hard part,” Taylor Vanderwork said in a telephone interview from their Jacksonville, N.C., home. “The mountain training, that was supposed to be the hard part.”
Her 21-year-old husband was one of seven Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force killed in a mortar accident late Monday in Nevada. Eight other servicemen were injured when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise at the Hawthorne Army Depot.
Like Vanderwork, who graduated in 2010 from St. Stephens High School in Hickory, N.C., several were already veterans of overseas combat duty.
Mason loved his friends and family in Hickory and his Marine Corps buddies, Taylor said. He loved his Mustang convertible, waking her up at 6 a.m. to head to the nearby beaches, and hanging out with his friends and family.
They married the day after her graduation from Hickory High School and wanted to start a family. He’d called her last week during a brief respite amid their rigorous combat training and told her he’d be home Tuesday.
“He said we could talk all day then, if we wanted,” she said. “But my world turned into a nightmare. I never wanted that knock on my door.”
Vanderwork said she liked to think about the lively, prankster side to Mason, who would hop on the grocery cart and make her push his muscled frame around the store. He was well known for tossing spitballs at school and celebrating with his friends.
“He loved life. He was a daredevil. If you gave him a challenge, he’d take it,” she said. He’d been deployed once to Afghanistan before they met, and again to Kuwait, she said.
“He was the most amazing man I’d ever met,” she said.
Vanderwork said she was working with her late husband’s family and the Marine Corps to arrange for ceremonies in both Hickory and near Camp Lejeune.
“I want everyone who knew Mason to be able to say their goodbyes,” she said.
Just 19, Pfc. Josh Martino of Dubois, Pa., had already spent nearly half his young life dreaming of becoming one of “the few, the proud.” He had joined in July and was hoping to marry his fiancee later this year before being deployed to Afghanistan, his mother said.Pfc. Josh Martino is seen in this undated photo provided by his brother Tony Perry.
COURTESY OF TONY PERRY VIA AP
Pfc. Josh Martino is seen in this undated photo provided by his brother Tony Perry.
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 fiancée 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.
“Since he was probably 8 years old he wanted to be a Marine,” Karen Perry said Wednesday after meeting with military officials to start planning her son’s funeral. “That’s all he wanted to do.”
Lance Cpl. Josh Taylor, 21, also seemed to have been born for the Corps. The Marietta, Ohio, native had talked about being a Marine since he was about 5, said his grandfather, Larry Stephens. Josh, too, was planning for a wedding, scheduled for May.In this undated photo released by the Marine Corps via the Marietta Times, Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Taylor poses for a photograph. Taylor, 21, with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C., was killed with 6 other Marines after a mortar shell  exploded during a training exercise at the Hawthorne, Nev., Army Depot.
MARINE CORPS VIA AP
In this undated photo released by the Marine Corps via the Marietta Times, Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Taylor poses for a photograph. Taylor, 21, with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C., was killed with 6 other Marines after a mortar shell exploded during a training exercise at the Hawthorne, Nev., Army Depot.
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 fiancée’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.
Both young men were among seven members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force killed late Monday when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Eight men were injured.
Six remained hospitalized in Reno on Thursday, and their overall conditions were improving. Five were listed in fair condition, and one was in serious, compared with two who had been serious a day earlier.
A decade after the invasion of Iraq and nearly 12 years since the United States launched the global war on terror, Americans have become wearily accustomed to the sight of flag-draped coffins being solemnly offloaded at Dover Air Force Base. But news of such loss on American soil, far from any foreign battlefield, has the power to shock.
The bodies of the seven victims arrived Wednesday night at Dover after a procession and small ceremony on the ramp at the Reno airport, said Maj. April Conway, spokeswoman for the Nevada Army National Guard.
———
During the past dozen years, barber Kenton Jones has touched the heads of many Marines and their family members. And they have touched him. Some of the men who’ve sat in his chair at Sharpe Cuts II — just up a busy highway from Lejeune’s main gate — came home from the Middle East in coffins.
Staring out his window, he couldn’t help wondering whether any of those killed or wounded in Nevada had come under his shears.
“During a time of war or whatever, the occupation … you kind of expect it,” he says. “But when it happens here, it seems senseless and it seems like a loss that could have been prevented.”
Down the road in Jacksonville, Marine veteran Guy Henry Woods led out-of-state relatives on a tour of the Beirut Memorial, built to honor the 241 Marines, sailors and other American service members who died in a 1983 truck bombing that destroyed their barracks in the Lebanese capital.
Woods, 66, was wounded twice in Vietnam and spent time in a U.S. Navy hospital in Guam. Surrounded by curved glass walls etched with the names of the fallen, Woods said it mattered not whether these Marines died in an accident here at home or on a distant battlefield.
“They put that uniform on, they gain the same respect as anybody that’s been to war,” the grizzled 20-year veteran said over the sound of the dancing water in the memorial’s fountain. “That’s the way I personally look at it myself. I still respect them, and I sympathize with them for what happened.”
———
The seven Marines killed ranged in age from 19 to 26. Some had served overseas; others were training for their first deployment. They were in the final night of a training exercise spread out of several days in California and Nevada when the accident occurred.
While many had long dreamed of being Marines, some were already making plans for a life after the Corps.
Twenty-six-year-old Aaron Ripperda of Highland, Ill., joined the service after graduating from a St. Louis culinary school and finding the job market flat. His father tried to gently dissuade him.
“He told us he always felt like he had a calling to join the Marines,” Kent Ripperda told The Associated Press from his home in Marine, Ill. “I guess maybe it was a prestige thing.”
Aaron Ripperda, 26, was one of seven Marines killed on March 18 when a mortar shell exploded at the Hawthorne Army Depot in Hawthorne, Nev.
COURTESY THE VOEGELE PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO VIA AP 
Aaron Ripperda, 26, was one of seven Marines killed on March 18 when a mortar shell exploded at the Hawthorne Army Depot in Hawthorne, Nev.
He enlisted in 2008, did a tour in Afghanistan in 2011 and was just a couple months from finishing his stint in the Marines. He was looking forward to returning home and attending Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville this fall, his father said.
Kent Ripperda said his son was eager to go back to college and “get on with his life.”
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.
Roger Muchnick, 23, who grew up in Westport, Conn., had already pulled one tour in Afghanistan and was thinking about returning to college after his enlistment was up, said his grandfather, Jerome Muchnick.
In this undated photo released by Eastern Connecticut State University, Marine Roger Muchnick poses for a photograph while in school in Connecticut. Muchnick, 23, with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C., was killed with 6 other Marines after a mortar shell  exploded during a training exercise at the Hawthorne, Nev., Army Depot.
EASTERN CONNECTICUT STATE UNIVERSITY VIA AP
In this undated photo released by Eastern Connecticut State University, Marine Roger Muchnick poses for a photograph while in school in Connecticut. Muchnick, 23, with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C., was killed with 6 other Marines after a mortar shell exploded during a training exercise at the Hawthorne, Nev., Army Depot.
Muchnick played on the football and lacrosse teams at Staples High School. He played high school lacrosse and football in Westport, Conn.and went on to play 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 that his most embarrassing moment was getting caught lip-synching in a school talent show.
“He was a fabulous kid. Just fabulous,” his grandfather said. “He was at the top of his game when this happened. … You can’t imagine losing a very handsome, 23-year-old grandson who was vital and loving.”
Lance Cpl. William Taylor Wild IV, 21, joined the Marines shortly after graduating in 2010 form Severna Park High School near Annapolis, Md. His mother, Elizabeth Wild, said he was in a weapons platoon that was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in November. He already had been deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait.
Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, of Anne Arundel, Md., 21, was killed with six other Marines in an explosion during a Nevada training exercise March 18.
MARINE CORPS VIA AP
Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, of Anne Arundel, Md., 21, was killed with six other Marines in an explosion during a Nevada training exercise March 18.
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.
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.
The military identified the other Marine who was killed as Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla. he joined the Marines in June 2010 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force said in a written statement.
Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II of Polk City, Fla., was killed with six other Marines in an explosion during a Nevada training exercise on March 18.
MARINE CORPS VIA AP
Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II of Polk City, Fla., was killed with six other Marines in an explosion during a Nevada training exercise on March 18.
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.
On Thursday, the military released the names of six of the eight people who were injured. They are Lance Cpl. Sean J. Burke, Lance Cpl. Douglas L. Hand II, Lance Cpl. Myles E. Harris, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Ian S. McClanahan, Sgt. Caleb W. Patton, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan P. West.
McClanahan was the only one classified as “very seriously injured.”
———
The explosion Monday caused an immediate suspension of the use of 60 mm mortars by the Marine Corps, with an exemption for troops in Afghanistan, U.S. military and Marine officials said. Marine units on the warfront may continue to use the 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, which will be in effect until the accident investigation is complete, largely affects units that are training, although those Marines could use the larger and more powerful 81 mm mortar systems if needed.

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