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MILITARY DEATHS

Two Camp Pendleton Marines Killed by Suicide Car Bomber

Lance Cpl. Brandon Dewey, 20, Tracy

January 29, 2006|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Christopher Dewey wanted his mother to hear the news directly from his lips.

Dewey called home from a field hospital in Iraq to say he was injured by a suicide bomber who broke through a checkpoint during intense fighting in Fallouja, west of Baghdad. The resulting shrapnel cut his right side, mostly his arm and leg.

"He had some scarring on his face that he was very proud of," his mother, Julia Conover, said last week from her home in Tracy, Calif., about 60 miles east of San Francisco.

For that September 2004 incident, Dewey was awarded a Purple Heart.

Although her youngest son assured her that he was fine, Conover said it still shook her the next day when an officer from the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton called to relay the injury report. "I was driving and I still had to pull over even though I already knew," she said.

Sixteen months later, during her son's second tour in Iraq, Conover received more bad news, and it was delivered in person. This time, her son did not cheat death.

Dewey, 20, was killed Jan. 20 when a suicide bomber exploded a car in Haqlaniya, northwest of Baghdad. Also killed in the explosion was Marine Cpl. Carlos Arellano, 22, of Rosemead.

Both were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, their unit was attached to the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

Conover said her son had no reservations about returning to the war zone, and seemed ready for any challenge.

"He told me not to be afraid," she said. "He felt really good about the training that they had all summer; he felt confident about the whole thing."

Dewey remained upbeat during their last conversation, a 30-minute phone call Jan. 16. They talked about the packages she had sent the month before, which included extra holiday cookies, cupcakes and black socks to supply his squad.

Conover said the infantry members wear the socks for a week at a time and them throw them away. She said she always included a pair in his weekly care packages, along with a magazine, snacks, a carton of cigarettes and often a heavy-metal CD.

Family friend Mike Pulliam, who once was Dewey's assistant Scoutmaster, said "it hit like a ton of bricks" when he learned of Dewey's death.

"I really feel for his mom and dad," he said. "It just amazes you that these fine young men are willing to make the sacrifice and to put themselves in harm's way for us. I'm proud to have known Brandon, and I honor his service."

Teachers and friends said Dewey had wanted to join the Marine Corps within months of his June 2003 graduation from Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, so he enlisted early in his senior year and spent weekends conducting fitness training to prepare for boot camp.

Justin Krone, who taught American government, politics and economics at West High, remembers Dewey as a "fun-loving ... jokester" who did Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonations in the months leading up to the California governor's election.

"He was funny and light-hearted. I remember thinking that it didn't add up to a Marine, but that's what he wanted to do," Krone said. "We talked about the very real possibility that he could be sent to Iraq. He was not scared of that. He was very much ready.... He knew what he wanted to do, but he still had the innocence of a child."

Dewey, who joined the Boy Scouts as a high school freshman, enjoyed camping, sailing, swimming and canoeing. Although he started late, he made an extra effort to get caught up in skills training, said Mark Gainor, another of his assistant Scoutmasters.

After boot camp, Dewey would take the six-hour drive from Camp Pendleton to Tracy as many weekends as he could to stay in touch with his family and friends.

"When the word got out that Dewey was in town, people would drop what they were doing," said former classmate Justin Watkinson. "He was known for his ear-to-ear smile."

Funeral services are scheduled for Monday afternoon at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Tracy, which the Marine attended since childhood, followed by a military burial at a local cemetery.

In addition to his mother, Dewey is survived by his stepfather, Scott Conover of Tracy; his father and stepmother, Mark and Michelle Dewey of Chandler, Ariz.; his brother, Jason Norrish, 35, of Clayton, Calif.; and his sister, Elyse Dewey, 18, who joined the Navy last year and is training in Pensacola, Fla..

Along with a Purple Heart, Dewey's personal awards include the Combat Action Ribbon, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.

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