Hickory man among seven Marines killed in training
Posted March 20, 2013
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — The military has released the names of the seven Marines who died in a mortar explosion during a training exercise in Nevada.
The victims range in age from 19 to 26. They were part of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Lejeune, N.C.
The victims were identified as:
— Pfc. Joshua M. Martino, 19, of Clearfield, Pa.
— Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla.
— Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23, of Fairfield, Conn.
— Lance Cpl. Joshua C. Taylor, 21, of Marietta, Ohio
— Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, of Hickory, N.C.
— Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, 21, of Anne Arundel, Md.
— Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda, 26, of Madison, Ill.
Eight more Marines were injured in the accident at the Hawthorne Army Depot.
Just 19, Martino 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.
"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."
Taylor 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.
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, some severely.
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.
Ripperda 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."
During a 2010 deployment in Afghanistan, Ripperda's mobile unit was responsible for transporting food to bases in the region, Justin Bergstrom, a fellow Marine, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an email.
"He did talk about his cooking abilities," Bergstrom wrote. They joked about him being able to keep his fellow Marines fed.
Kent Ripperda said his son was eager to go back to college and "get on with his life."
Muchnick, 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.
Muchnick played on the football and lacrosse teams at Staples High School 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."
Wild 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.
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.
Fenn and Vanderwork both joined the Marines in June 2010 and were deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force said in a written statement.
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.
At Camp Lejeune, an 170-square-mile base and home to about 50,000 uniformed troops, counselors at the Naval Hospital were gearing up to offer help as the ripples from Monday's tragedy began reaching family and friends, barracks mates and survivors, said Dr. Sawsan Ghurani, director of mental health programs at the hospital.
"It's so unexpected that it's more of a shock than if you'd been mentally prepared" for battlefield casualties, said Ghurani, a psychiatrist and Navy captain. "You hope people don't die in war, but it is a common occurrence and whereas, in training exercises, it's very rare."
The ages of the victims make it even worse, Ghurani said.
"For me, it's especially tragic when they are so young and still have so much left to give in life and to experience in life that it just seems unfair," she said. But, she added, "The nature of the military culture is to be selfless."