Da Grunt's Support Team!
By: A Jarheads Dad
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|Thursday, 27-Oct-2005 00:00
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Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Thompson
Fair Winds and Following Seas "Doc"
Navy corpsman from Millers Creek dies in Iraq
Marines are killed when armored vehicle is hit by a roadside bomb near Baghdad
By Monte Mitchell
Monday, October 24, 2005
A Wilkes County native, who was a Navy corpsman assigned to the Marines, was killed in Iraq on Friday in a roadside bomb attack.
"I can't let my Marines go without me," Chris Thompson, 25, told his father, just before shipping out on his second combat tour. "I take care of them."
A corpsman - similar to a medic in the Army - goes on patrol with the Marines and tries to keep the wounded alive. Thompson was a petty officer hospitalman third class. Thompson and another member of the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) were killed in the bombing near Amiriyah, 25 miles west of Baghdad. Thompson was riding in the left rear seat of an armored vehicle when someone set off an improvised explosive device, his parents said.
Larry and Geraldine Thompson were home at 9:25 p.m. Friday when they got the news. She was already in bed reading. While he was in the living room, Larry Thompson looked up from the television and through the front door's glass panel to see Navy officers in dress blues. He knew immediately why they were there, Larry Thompson said.
Churches throughout Wilkes County offered up prayers for Chris Thompson and his family yesterday as news of his death spread. Mourners offered condolences at the family's home beside a road off N.C. 16 in the Millers Creek community.
His brother, David, also a Navy hospital corpsman assigned to the Marines, said that Chris Thompson's executive officer told him he was proud to go to war with Chris.
"He knew if something happened he'd take care of them," David said. "If things were worst, he'd be the first one to step up."
David Thompson, 35, hugged his parents before leaving yesterday to return to Camp Lejeune. He is scheduled to travel to Iraq on Nov. 4 and expects to meet with his commanding officer today to see if he will still do that.
The family doesn't know when Chris Thompson's body will come home.
Larry and Geraldine Thompson sat at their kitchen table as they talked about their son. They wore yellow bracelets with the message "Support Our Troops."
The bracelets were a gift from Chris, presented as they all stood in the rain July 21 at Camp Lejeune and he boarded the bus that would take him to the plane back to Iraq.
"We promised him we wouldn't take them off until he got back and they haven't been off," Larry Thompson said.
"Mine neither," Geraldine Thompson said.
While he had been home from his first combat tour, someone asked him how he could manage to insert an IV in someone's arm on a battlefield, while bullets were crackling by and bombs exploding.
"He said, 'All I can tell you is I haven't missed yet. When you've got somebody dying, you've got to do what you can do,'" Larry Thompson recalled.
During his first tour, from March 2004 to October 2004, Thompson used those skills to help four Marines seriously hurt when a bomb exploded beside the Humvee in front of his. One man was blinded. Another lost his right leg. Another lost his right arm. Another had a head injury.
Thompson attended to them, and held a fifth Marine, his best friend, who died in his arms.
When the fight was over, they would find two bullets inside Thompson's medical pack. He was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with valor for his actions.
When he was home, he talked to his father about still seeing the faces of those who had died.
Larry Thompson, an Army veteran, understood. Larry said he still sees faces of those lost when he was in Vietnam in 1967-68.
"I don't want to forget them," he says he told his son. "I want to remember them and honor them.... You do the best you can and come home. That's all you can do."
His mother remembers a funny boy. She told the story of how as a teenager he would sneak her convertible out to take his buddies for a ride. He would think she didn't notice when she'd crank up and the gas needle would be on empty and the radio blaring. She never told him she knew.
She remembers the time he was wrestling for fun with his oldest brother, Jimmy Epley, who is now 42. Epley pinned him against the wall, but Chris got the last word by saying he would still be young when Epley was old.
Chris Thompson played football and baseball at North Wilkes High School. He grew up in the Mulberry area, and the family only recently moved to Millers Creek.
He joined the Navy when he was 21, and finished basic training three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He didn't get to go to his promised school, but was sent straight to the fleet as a seaman aboard the USS Austin.
Eighteen months later, he finally started the corpsman training that he had wanted.
Because Wilkes County was relatively close to Camp Lejeune, it wasn't uncommon for the Thompsons to come home and find tents hanging outside to dry. Their son and several Marine friends would be sprawled asleep inside the house.
Chris Thompson wanted to become a coach and teacher. Once his military duty ended in July 2006, he hoped to study at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C.
In his parent's last phone conversation with him Thursday, Thompson asked them to send some clear lenses for his sunglasses. He also wanted some Kool-Aid mix because the water there tasted nasty.
They talked for only five minutes.
"He said 'Dad, I'm awfully tired, I can't stay long, I'm going out on another patrol,'" Larry Thompson remembers. "He said, 'I love you,' and we said 'We love you.'"
They talked about Coastal Carolina's overtime football win against Gardner-Webb University the previous weekend.
"He said, 'I'll go down there and go to school and you may see me on the sideline next year,'" his father recalled.
Military officials have told them that Chris Thompson's body will be flown into Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, his father said. They plan to have the funeral at Peace Haven Baptist Church and bury him nearby in Mountlawn Memorial Park.
• Monte Mitchell can be reached in Wilkesboro at (336) 667-5691 or at email@example.com
|Wednesday, 26-Oct-2005 00:00
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LCpl Kenneth Butler
LCpl Kenneth Butler
Death of a dream
By Andrew Dys The Herald
As a kid learning to ride his bike around Rock Hill's Hargett Park, Kenny Butler wanted to be a cowboy. He succeeded, riding bulls on the rodeo circuit in North Carolina.
Then he joined the U.S. Marine Corps straight out of high school.
Butler went to Iraq as a humvee turret gunner two months ago. On Friday, a bomb blew up his humvee west of Baghdad, Butler's brother said.
Lance Cpl. Kenneth James Butler won't ever ride another bull. He died at 19.
Butler moved away from Rock Hill in elementary school, but his family -- and their memories -- remain.
"My brother was tough, tough enough to get kicked by a bull then get up and walk away," said brother Carl Butler, 23, who still lives in Rock Hill in the house on Steed Street where the Butler boys rough-housed and played.
Butler's father, Carlton "Buster" Butler Jr., who served seven years in the Army, lived in Rock Hill all his life until moving to Mecklenburg County last year. Butler's grandparents, Cynthia and Carlton Butler Sr., are still in Rock Hill.
Proud to be a Marine
All the Marines will say is Butler died when an "improvised explosive device" blew up while Butler was "conducting combat operations against enemy forces."
What the family knows is Butler, called "Cowboy Bill" by his grandmother, is dead.
Carlton Butler Sr. said his grandson was proud to be a Marine. The Navy veteran said he was proud to be the grandfather of a Marine.
"I've known him since he was 12, and I thought he'd be a farmer," said Nina Butler, Carl's wife. "He loved horses."
Butler joined the Marines after a recruiter came to Butler's Rowan County, N.C., high school, where he lived with his mother and stepfather.
"He called me up one day and said, 'Yep, I joined the Marines,'" his father said. "I knew he'd go to Iraq or Afghanistan or one of them places, so I asked if he was sure. He said he was sure, so he went."
Butler is the third serviceman with York County roots to die in Iraq. Paul Neff II, who grew up in Fort Mill, died in November 2003. Rock Hill pilot Pat Leach died in December.
With the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Butler racked up three medals in about two months in Iraq, said Lt. Barry Edwards, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Division. Butler was promoted from private first class Oct. 1.
Now Butler gets a Purple Heart, Edwards said.
Butler's father said he's not against the war and he doesn't blame anyone. The country had to do something after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said.
"The last time I talked to him before he shipped out, I wished him luck," Buster Butler said. "Can't say this was luck."
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Recently, Butler's grandmother, Cynthia Butler, stopped by Richmond Drive Elementary School around the corner from her Rock Hill home to drop off a picture of her grandson.
"She wanted to show me I would be proud of one of the students I had taught in the first grade," said Lu Anne Cox, a longtime teacher at Richmond Drive. "I remember him distinctly. A wonderful student. Bright. Energetic. Just a great kid."
Tuesday night, Cox was talking to her son, Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Wagoner, who is in his second tour in Iraq. She mentioned one of her former students was in combat. She gave her son Butler's contact information with hopes the two could meet. Cox planned to write a letter today to Butler, saying how proud she was of him.
But Wednesday she found out the kid from the first grade died in some place in the desert called Al Amariyah, Iraq.
Cox, whose students have adopted Wagoner's military unit and sent hundreds of care packages, was stunned.
"The children we teach in first grade are not supposed to die in wars," Cox said.
Andrew Dys • 329-4065
|Tuesday, 25-Oct-2005 00:00
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SSgt Nick Pummill
SSgt Nick Pummill
Recruiter sought combat role
Anderson Twp. Marine killed in Iraq spurred by 9/11
By Steve Kemme
Enquirer staff writer
ANDERSON TWP. - Rick Pummill was a U.S. Marine recruiter when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred.
When the United States began its war with Iraq, he was still a recruiter.
Pummill, intensely patriotic and energetic, couldn't stand it any more.
The Anderson Township native gave up the safe, sedate job of recruiting to prepare for combat.
"He said he was tired of sitting on the sidelines," said his mother, Lynn Pummill. "He couldn't wait to go over there."
Pummill, a Marine first sergeant, died in Iraq on Thursday along with two other Marines when an explosive device hit their Humvee that was part of a convoy traveling about 25 miles west of Baghdad.
Pummill had been in Baghdad since July.
Lynn Pummill learned of her son's death from two Marines who came to her Anderson Township apartment at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Numb with grief, she stayed up all night. When she finally went to bed at 6 a.m. Friday, she slept only two hours. She said she's still trying to absorb the tragic news.
"I keep waiting for the Marines to call me and tell me they made a mistake and that he's still alive," Pummill said.
Rick Pummill's wife, Chantel, lives in Jacksonville, N.C., where the Marines' Camp Lejeune is located. He leaves a 3-year-old son, Donald Richard "Cliff" Pummill, who lives with Pummill's first wife in Norfolk, Va. He was also close to his grandparents, Donald and Ann Lesher, of Anderson Township.
On Friday afternoon, Lynn Pummill, teary-eyed, sat on her couch. Her friend, Patsy Hager of Mount Washington, and her son's best friend, John Morgan Jr., were there to comfort her.
"The day Rick went into the military, he gave me his spare dog tag," said Morgan, who had known him since they were 4 years old. "I've had it on my key chain every since."
He joined the Marines after graduating from Anderson High School in 1996. He spent his last two years in high school attending Scarlet Oaks Joint Vocational School.
Rick Pummill, whose great-grandfather was a Marine, was a stocky, muscular guy who played football and wrestled at Anderson High School.
Morgan described him as a generous, compassionate man who deeply valued family and friends and loved his country.
Pummill's mother said he didn't talk a whole lot about himself when he'd call her from Iraq. He wanted to know about family and friends. She last talked to him Tuesday night.
"He called just to make sure everything was OK," she said. "He was in good spirits."
She said her son didn't understand why some Americans oppose the war in Iraq.
"He had very strong convictions," Lynn Pummill said. "He'd say, 'Did they forget about 9/11?' "
|Monday, 24-Oct-2005 00:00
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LCpl Steven Szwydek
UPDATE 11-17-05 I'm adding some photos from the family today of Steven. I'm having trouble transferring but will do the best I can. A special favorite is the one of Steven with the Iraqi kids. They touched his heart! God Bless - JHD
Monday October 24, 2005
Friends and family say Marine fulfilled his lifelong dream of joining Corps
by DON AINES
From the time he was a boy, Steve Szwydek had set his goal in life: He wanted to be among "The Few. The Proud. The Marines."
"He told us when he was 5 years old," his mother, Nancy, said Sunday at their Fulton County, Pa., home, where family and friends had gathered to console the family over the loss of the son and brother killed last week during his second deployment to Iraq.
Lance Cpl. Steven W. Szwydek, serving with Weapons Co., 2nd Battalion, Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, and two fellow Marines were killed Thursday when an improvised explosive device detonated while they were on combat operations near Nasser Wa Salaam, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
"He was a typical kid, but never had any problems," his mother said. Born in Portsmouth, Va., Steven Szwydek graduated in 2003 from Southern Fulton High School, where he played outfield and catcher for the baseball team, managed the basketball team, sang in the school choir and was chaplain for the FFA chapter.
Steven was active in the youth group of his church, St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Hancock, the family said.
"He was one of the nicest guys you ever knew," said his friend, Timothy Keebaugh of Needmore, Pa. "He'd do anything to help you out. He was a funny guy" who loved the outdoors, Keebaugh said.
In the summer before his senior year, Szwydek joined the Marine Corps through the delayed entry program, Nancy Szwydek said.
"We did try to talk him into - very strongly - looking into other branches of the armed forces," said his father, Wallace Szwydek.
"We told him the Marines were brainwashed," Nancy said, apologizing to two Marine sergeants who were with the family. Their son spoke with a U.S. Army recruiter, but was unwavering in his desire to join the corps, she said.
Nancy Szwydek told her son she would not sign the permission form necessary for those under the age of 18 to enlist in the program.
"He said, 'Mom, I love and respect you, but I'll wait 'til I'm 18,'" and sign up then, she recalled.
"So I signed," she said.
"He left for boot camp four days after graduation," she said.
Stephanie Bard of Warfordsburg, Steven Szwydek's older sister, said she read letters written to her brother by classmates when he was in first grade. In them, the classmates wrote that "he always wanted to be an Army man."
"He was a military history buff," his father said. His son was very proud of a military weapons collection that included American and foreign firearms from World War I to the present.
The family said he planned to make the Marine Corps his career. His younger brother, Corey, said he had discussed leaving the Marines to go to college and then returning as an officer.
Steven Szwydek, who has an older brother, Gregory Craven, in Oklahoma City, was deployed to Iraq from March to October of 2004, his father said. He was redeployed July 20, he said.
"He had leave and we also spent time with him at (Camp) Lejeune (N.C.) before he left," his mother said. About two weeks ago, they spoke with him by telephone.
Nancy Szwydek said her son had just finished a patrol and sounded tired, "but fine as always."
"Always upbeat," said his father, who noted Steven made the call at 3:30 a.m. Iraqi time.
Szwydek was the recipient of many awards during his service, including the Purple Heart. Other awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment ribbon and the National Defense Service Medal, his parents said.
"He had no regrets about what he was doing, and he made it clear we have no regrets, either," Bard said.
"My husband and I both believe that freedom isn't free," Nancy Szwydek said.
About two miles from the Szwydek home, there was a sign in front of Wilkins Farm & Home Supply bearing Steven Szwydek's name.
Below his name, the sign read, "The Last Full Measure."
|Sunday, 23-Oct-2005 00:00
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They Came In Peace
Pictures and text used from the following sites:
A moving tribute to our fallen Beirut Marines from Lance Cpl. Jeffrey A. Cosola:
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION NEW RIVER, N.C.(Oct. 17, 2005) --
"These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you’ll return to
Your valleys and your farms
And you’ll no longer burn
To be brother- in-arms"
They were more than names once. They were our fathers and husbands, our friends and sons. They were asked by their nation to stand a post in the center of a religious hellstorm they didn’t understand. They were Marines and they came in peace.
At approximately 6:22 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 23, 1983 in Beirut, Lebanon, a lone terrorist driving a yellow Mercedes-Benz stake-bed truck loaded with explosives accelerated through the public parking lot south of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 8th Marines headquarters building and penetrated into the lobby of the barracks there.
According to the official Department of Defense commission report, the force of the explosion [12,000 pounds of hexogen] ripped the building from its foundation. The building then imploded upon itself and almost all of the occupants were crushed or trapped inside the wreckage.
“It was one of the largest noises I’ve ever heard in my entire career,” said retired Marine Major Robert T. Jordan, the 24th MAU Public Affairs Officer at the time of the bombing. Jordan was in his rack in an adjacent building when the explosion split the still morning air and showered him with glass and pulverized concrete.
Recovering his senses, Jordan made his way into his press tent to find his Marines and located Press Chief Staff Sgt. Randy Geddo, who had been “blown out of his seat.” “He looked at me with these big, round eyes and said, ‘Sir, the BLT is gone.’”
“I crested a hill and looked down into the ground below and it was filled with debris,” remembered Jordan. “All that was left of the 5-ton truck was a 40 foot by 30 foot deep crater and a crank case in the bottom.”
"Through these fields of destruction
Baptisms of fire
I’ve watched all your suffering
As the battles raged higher
And though they did hurt me so bad
In the fear and alarm
You did not desert me
Inside a tomb of twisted rebar, broken glass and slabs of concrete, hundreds of Marines, Sailors and Soldiers were fighting for their next breath. One of those was a 19-year old corporal who went from deciding what to have for breakfast to playing a starring role in his own nightmare.
“When the bomb exploded, there we’re no words to explain how loud it was,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. John Nash, 3rd Marine Division communications chief. “Everybody was buried. Cement, wood, everything was laying on top of us.”
Nash was one of the few trapped inside who was able to dig themselves out of the rubble. He escaped through the screams of pain, the calls for help and the panic of dying men. He did what he could to save the Marines around him.
“You’re thinking, ‘Who are we going to find next? Who is still alive? Why would anyone do something this devastating?’ We went there as peacekeepers. When we left, we left as victims,” said Nash.
Outside, Jordan was among the Marines who rushed to their fellow servicemembers. They did the best they could to save lives, but the day’s horrors seemed endless, said Jordan.
“We went into the debris and there were two Marines sitting side by side and they looked in shock,” said Jordan. “They were covered with dust and they were moaning. We couldn’t see any obvious wounds, so I reached down and grabbed one of them and my hand went into a huge hole in his back.
“At the end of the day, back at the press tent I walked in and heard someone call out, ‘Oh my God, he’s covered in blood. The blood had saturated my utilities. I looked up and replied, ‘Don’t worry, it’s not mine.’”
In the fading velvet light of the setting sun, at the back of a headquarters building, Jordan started to cry. He explained, “I couldn’t hold it in any longer.”
"Now the sun’s gone to hell
And the moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line on your palm
We’re fools to make war
On our brothers-in-arms"
There is nothing left now but the memories of 241 Marines and Sailors who gave their lives, the first casualties in the Global War on Terrorism.
“Our first duty is to remember, to acknowledge their sacrifice,” said Jordan. “There are a lot of men with stories similar to mine. They need to be recognized.”
“We can learn a great deal from our past,” added Nash. “This is our history. We must never forget the sacrifices that these 241 Marines and Sailors gave that terrible Sunday morning. They are all heroes and should always be remembered.”
Their names are now etched in stone. They are our brothers-in-arms and they died so that others know what freedom gives and what it takes. They did their duty. They were Marines. They came in peace.
Editor’s note: The lyrics used in this song were taken from Dire Straits’ 1985 song “Brothers-in-arms.”
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