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More Than a Few Good Men

The Vertical Vision / Part Iii: Casualties

December 17, 2002

"I said, 'Robbie, why do you fly that damnable airplane?' " recalled his mother, Ann Bandgren. "And he said: 'Mother, it's not a damnable aircraft. It's a wonderful aircraft and I love it. I'm right with God, and I'm doing what I want to do.' "

Wilson's own AV-8A crashed on March 4, 1982, while he was attempting to land from a hover during a training exercise at Cherry Point.

According to Bandgren, he was dropping onto a small metal pad surrounded by trees. The plane drifted left. When he tried to correct it, he became enveloped in debris kicked up by the nozzles. The plane rolled and Wilson ejected, but into the ground. He survived for about 15 hours. A letter Bandgren received from the squadron commander said, "The final cause was undetermined, with most probable cause as pilot error."

Wilson, 25, was the oldest of three brothers, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and had been married less than six weeks when he was killed.




Call Sign: Grover Died: Sept. 24, 1982

Donnelly, 26, was a devout Christian utterly devoted to the Marine Corps, said his wife, Rosemarie Donnelly.

"He believed that it was a calling almost," she said.

He picked the Harrier when he left flight school, she said, even though he considered it "a squirrelly plane" that "took a really delicate touch" to fly.

Donnelly believed in the aircraft's mission of providing close air support to ground troops. And he was supremely confident in his ability to handle it, she said. "He was not intimidated by anything."

His AV-8A Harrier crashed into the North Sea near Germany shortly after he took off from a ship during a training exercise. Navy officials said they cannot find the investigative reports on the incident. But his widow said she was told that his Harrier went down after encountering wind shear.

They had been married three years. "He said he thought he had the best job of anyone in the world," she said.



Call Sign: Jackal Died: Dec. 1, 1982

Squire was the inquisitive son, the fifth of seven siblings, who was always in motion. He raised pheasants, repaired cuckoo clocks, and picked and canned 52 quarts of cherries to surprise his parents one year.

Although his father, an inventor, could comfortably send him to college, Squire insisted on paying his own way. He enlisted in the Marine Corps ROTC and graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1979 with an officer's commission and an engineering degree.

His AV-8A crashed during a practice bombing run at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma. Squire had just completed his fifth bombing pass when the aircraft went into a fatal dive, said his father, Edward Squire.

The cause of the accident is not known. Squire was 25.



Died: April 27, 1983

A jammed control stick downed Spargo's two-seat training plane. The TAV-8A had crashed previously and been rebuilt. Before Spargo's crash, a pilot had reported a jammed control stick, but mechanics couldn't find a cause and recertified it for flight.

The stick stuck again on Spargo during vertical takeoff from Cherry Point. Spargo's student, Dwight Motz, ejected safely but Spargo was seconds too late. He hit the ground, breaking his neck. The investigation found that a spare part, a metal hose adapter, had been left beneath the cockpit floorboard and had caused the stick to jam.

A Connecticut native, Spargo, 30, had been in the Marines for 10 years, flying Harriers virtually the whole time.

His widow, Ann Spargo, said he was a well-balanced man who was bright, thoughtful, funny and sensitive.

Motz described him as a meticulous, hard-working pilot who had a gentle touch with those he was training. "He always had a positive side to a negative event," Motz said.



Call Sign: Flatbush Died: April 25, 1985

Flatlie was practicing dogfighting maneuvers with another plane when he banked his AV-8A too severely. The plane failed to recover from its turn, hit the ground and exploded.

He had personality conflicts with some squadron members, including the other pilot, according to his widow, Lori Leatherbee. But investigators said those conflicts did not affect his job performance. The investigation cited "pilot error in judgment" as the cause of the crash at the Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nev.

Flatlie, 29, was "a Marine first and a pilot second," Leatherbee said. "It was in his blood. He was pretty loyal to the grunts, which is why he was set on flying an aircraft that would work with the men on the ground."

A native of small-town North Dakota, Flatlie graduated from North Dakota State University. Leatherbee described him as a meticulous Marine who took pride in staying in shape and keeping his shoes shined. "His closet was organized short sleeves to long sleeves, everything in order, because of his Marine training," she said.



Call Sign: Indian Died: Aug. 12, 1987

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