A day after being relieved of his command of Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 465, Lt. Col. Samuel J. Ware eulogized as "some pretty special men" the five Marines who died last Thursday when their CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed near the Salton Sea in Imperial County.
In a prepared statement, the Marine Corps said Tuesday: "Lt. Col. Samuel J. Ware has been relieved of duty as the commanding officer of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 due to a loss of confidence by Maj. Gen. John I. Hudson, commanding general, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Ware, who commanded the squadron since May 21, 1985, has been reassigned to the Marine Aircraft Group 16 safety office in Tustin."
A Marine spokeswoman refused to provide additional information about the reassignment or what Ware's duties would be.
Wylie A. Aitken, an attorney for survivors of Marines who died in another Super Stallion crash, said Wednesday that he was concerned that the military "may be making him (Ware) a scapegoat for design failures in the Sikorsky aircraft" and that the reassignment may be "a face-saving device."
Last week's crash, during a routine nighttime training mission, was the most recent in a string of accidents and fatal crashes involving the Marines' Super Stallion CH-53E. A majority of the aircraft involved in the crashes had been assigned to Squadron 465.
Ware, 43, told the solemn crowd of more than 400 friends and relatives at the memorial service Wednesday at the Marine Corps Air Station Theater in Tustin that the Marines "lost some pretty special men" in last week's tragedy.
Looking out at the first three rows of the theater, where members of the victims' immediate family sat, Ware praised the men for their devotion to their families and friends and for their enthusiasm for flying and the Marines.
Each man, he said, was "our Marine."
Later, at a reception for the friends and relatives of the crewmen, Ware was asked about the Marine Corps' decision to relieve him of his duties.
"I'd just rather not comment about that," he said, and walked away into the crowd.
Lisa Collins, whose brother, Thomas Baddeley III, died in the crash, said afterward that she was comforted by Wednesday's memorial service and by the compassion everyone had shown her and her brother's widow, Jeanette. Family members were picked up at their homes Wednesday morning and taken to the Tustin Marine base for the service. Some of the widows entered the theater holding the arms of uniformed escorts.
"I thought it was a very beautiful service and that they really made all the families feel honored," said Collins, 28. "Tom had done so much in his 21 years."
Referring to the two sons her brother left behind--Thomas Baddeley IV, 18 months, and Kyle, 7 weeks--Collins added: "You could just see the kid would come out in him when he played with them. He'd get down on the floor to wrestle with them and talk with them. He just worshiped the kids and Jeanette, too."
Kathy Reilly, sister of co-pilot Michael Reilly, said of the service: "I thought it was nice. It just seemed that they are all very caring people." She said of Ware: "Michael thought a great deal of that man. He was a friend."
Reilly, however, did not have equally kind words for Rep. Robert E. Badham (R-Newport Beach), who shortly after the crash said initial reports suggested pilot error.
"I don't understand how he can come out with any type of statement," she said. "He is not a pilot. How can anyone come out and say something if it's a matter of elements affecting someone's flight. I think the guy is too outspoken for his own good."
The 31-year-old nurse from Taunton, Mass., said Badham's comments were also hurtful.
"Doesn't he take into consideration the feelings of the loved ones?" Reilly asked. "It's like they were just an object that's gone now. I wouldn't want it to happen to him, but maybe if it did he could relate."
Badham, who did not attend the service, defended his remarks Wednesday and said he felt "as bad as anyone else" about the crash.
"There are only two things that can keep an aircraft in the air--one is the mechanics of the aircraft and the other is human beings," Badham said. "If there is not a mechanical failure, there has to be a human factor involved, and that is basically all I have said. That is not conclusive or final. I merely said that those are the things that will have to be looked at. . . .
"As a former Navy officer and a combat veteran of the Korean war, I understand the grief of the loved ones. I feel as bad about this as anyone else and am trying to get to the bottom of it."
Times staff writer Mark I. Pinsky contributed to this story.