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O.C. Marine is called a hero at Afghanistan memorial service

Lance Cpl. Justin Swanson was killed Nov. 10 when a bomb exploded under his Humvee. He was 'full of love for his family and home and dedicated to the protection of others,' his commander says.

November 22, 2009|By Tony Perry
  • Marines and sailors gathered at the outpost in southern Afghanistan to honor Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Swanson. “Justin always wanted to . . . do something important for his country,” one friend said.
Marines and sailors gathered at the outpost in southern Afghanistan to… (Tony Perry / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Forward Operating Base Geronimo, Afghanistan -- Lance Cpl. Justin Swanson's battalion commander thought of his own sons as he remembered the young Marine from Orange County in a solemn memorial service Saturday at this outpost in Afghanistan.

If his boys, ages 6 and 9, become Marines, Lt. Col. William McCollough said, "I hope they show the same courage and resolve as Justin."

Swanson was "full of love for his family and home and dedicated to the protection of others," said McCollough, commander of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment.

Swanson, 21, who graduated from Buena Park High School in 2006, was killed Nov. 10 when a bomb exploded beneath the Humvee he was driving. Another Marine suffered a broken neck and is being treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Swanson was the fourth Marine from the 1-5 killed during the seven-month deployment that is set to end within weeks. The overall Marine force, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, has had 40 members killed and 150 wounded severely enough to require evacuation.

Sitting outside in a makeshift chapel with sandbags forming an altar and the U.S. and Marine Corps flags nearby, several hundred Marines and sailors, and a dozen Afghan soldiers, heard Swanson praised as outgoing and fun-loving but serious in his attention to his Marine duties.

"Justin always wanted to come to a combat environment with his friends and do something important for his country," Sgt. Miguel Bautista said. "I love you, brother."

With the service being filmed for Swanson's family, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Nutt, who grew up in Anaheim, said, "Your son touched not only my life but all of our lives. He's a hero in my book."

Lance Cpl. J.M. Jones said that Swanson "was a good guy -- still is. I'm never going to forget you."

As the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan has mounted, memorial services have been commonplace and have a stylized ritual. The memorial for Swanson ended as many have: a bagpipe recording of "Amazing Grace," a last roll call, and then taps.

At the end of the service, a long line of Marines, enlisted and officers, waited to approach the display of dog tags, boots and an inverted rifle. Many had tears in their eyes as they knelt and said farewell.

Finally, a CH-53 helicopter landed nearby, its huge rotors kicking up a cloud of dust and making a deafening noise. Marines in full battle gear rushed to jump aboard -- grieving, but continuing the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

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