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Peers Honor 7 Marines Who Died in Accident in Pakistan

Memorial: More than 1,500 mourners, including Gov. Davis, gather for ceremony at San Diego base.

January 18, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — In a somber and tearful ceremony, the seven Marines killed in a plane crash last week in Pakistan were remembered Thursday as patriots "who answered the call of their nation with honor, courage and commitment."

More than 1,500 people, including Gov. Gray Davis and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, attended a memorial service at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to honor the seven killed when their KC-130 Hercules crashed into a mountain while attempting a night landing.

"Our fellow Marines were so dear to us, and the pain is very great," said Lt. Col. Carl Parker, his voice breaking. "We will carry a part of each of them inside of us. We have a solemn responsibility to emulate the wonderful example they set for us."

Outside the base theater, where the memorial was held, the Marine Corps had placed seven pairs of black boots, seven M-16 rifles, seven helmets and seven wreaths. The display was guarded by two Marines in dress blues.

The crash was the biggest loss of life among U.S. military personnel during the war on terrorism that began in October. The plane was part of Miramar-based Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, known as the Raiders.

"It really doesn't matter what is said today," said a tearful Sgt. Ricky L. Poon, eulogizing Sgt. Nathan Hays, one of the seven. "What really matters is that we remember them tomorrow for what they did for our nation."

Investigators have not determined a cause for the crash, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said there is no evidence that the plane was struck by groundfire. Taliban and Al Qaeda forces across the border in Afghanistan have shoulder-launched Stinger missiles and have fired at other craft, although there no reports of U.S. planes being hit.

"The price of liberty and justice is often paid for with the lives of our nation's youth," said Rear Adm. Louis V. Iasiello, Marine Corps head chaplain.

Killed in the crash were Capt. Matthew Bancroft, 29, of Redding, the pilot; Capt. Daniel G. McCollum, 29, of Richland, S.C., the co-pilot; Gunnery Sgt. Stephen L. Bryson, 36, of Montgomery, Ala.; Staff Sgt. Scott N. Germosen, 37, of New York City; Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Bertrand, 23, of Coos Bay, Ore.; Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters, 25, of Du Page, Ill.; and Hays, 21, of Lincoln, Wash.

Winters was a radio operator based at Miramar. The six others were part of the plane's air crew. A replacement plane with an all-volunteer crew was dispatched to Afghanistan late last week from Miramar.

With sobbing relatives in the audience Thursday, the Marines were called loyal friends and dedicated Marines.

"We honor you and we swear by the love we have in our hearts for you, we will happily pick up your torch and we will never forget you," Capt. Kent Kroeker said in his eulogy to Bancroft.

Gunnery Sgt. Randolph Richter, speaking of Bertrand, said, "We will prevail over our enemies and right this terrible injustice. And when we do, let us claim it as a tribute to our liberty and to the crew of Raider 04 [the plane's number] who died to defend it."

Capt. Richard Roberts said of McCollum, "Dan was a brother to us all and he is an American hero."

Gunnery Sgt. Michael Lamar said of Germosen, who had received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Lebanon, "We were so lucky to have Scott. He was a gift from God and now he is a gift to God."

The KC-130 was on a fuel-carrying mission, which may have contributed to the explosion and fire reported by eyewitnesses, officials said. The aging aircraft is designed to carry troops and cargo and provide in-flight refueling for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

"Our illusion of invincibility has been shattered," said Parker, the squadron's commanding officer.

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