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Marine Lance Cpl. Dion Whitley, 21, Altadena; Dies When Humvee Hits Bomb

June 26, 2005|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

In his teen years, Dion Whitley was known to friends and family as a "gentle giant."

But being big -- too big -- almost got in the way of his dream of enlisting in the Marines.

That wouldn't stop him. Ever since anyone could remember, the Altadena youngster had wanted to be a U.S. Marine.

"He was patriotic. He liked the outdoors. He watched war movies. It was just something we always knew he wanted to do," said his older brother, Arian Whitley, 26.

At every opportunity, the future lance corporal and machine gunner talked about his goal. He even wrote about the Marines in his high school essays.

But recruiters told him he had to shed weight from his 300-pound, 6-foot, 3-inch frame before the Marines would take him.

Whitley threw himself into a daily exercise routine and even trained with the recruiters to show them he was serious. After several months of discipline, "he really slimmed down," recalled Arian. "He looked fit and trim."

The 21-year-old and three other Marines were killed June 15 by an insurgent attack while on patrol near Ramadi, Iraq.

Becoming a Marine was only the first of several plans Whitley had for his life. He wanted to use his military pay and benefits to go to college, buy a home and start a business.

In his final phone call home, on June 7, he chatted about his future.

"We were talking about getting ready to buy a house for him in Las Vegas," said Arian, also of Altadena. "And we talked about the business we wanted to start together, a barbecue catering business for the film industry. He talked about that all the time."

Arian said his brother did not plan to stay in the military because he was unhappy with the Iraq war. "He wanted to do his duty to his country," Arian said. "But he knew the war wasn't a good war. He was saddened by it because he wasn't a person who wants to hurt other people. He was in good spirits while he was there, but he was no killer."

Longtime friend Josh Smith, 20, of Pasadena remembered Whitley as quiet and shy but someone who loved to amuse people. "He made your hours happy. We didn't even have to go out. We'd play video games, cards, dominoes."

Born in Rock Island, Ill., Whitley was raised by a single mother and lived nearly all his life in Altadena. He thrived in the Boy Scouts and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

"He set a good example for others," Arian said.

Whitley entered the Marines shortly after graduating from John Muir High School in 2002. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, and was deployed to Iraq in March.

The Department of Defense told his family his unit was preparing to place snipers in strategic positions when his Humvee rolled over a homemade bomb that hit the vehicle's gas tank.

In addition to his brother, his survivors include his mother, Deborah Whitley of Altadena.

The funeral will be Thursday at Victory Bible Church in Pasadena.

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