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As blast victims are named, Nevada military town grieves

Hawthorne, Nev., works to help families of the 15 servicemen killed or injured in a live-fire training exercise.

March 20, 2013|By Louis Sahagun and David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times
  • Marine Brig. Gen. James Lukeman, the 2nd Marine Division commanding general, speaks Tuesday at Camp Lejeune, N.C., about the Hawthorne Army Depot training accident and offers condolences to families of the victims.
Marine Brig. Gen. James Lukeman, the 2nd Marine Division commanding general,… (Marine Corps )

HAWTHORNE, Nev. — As investigators continued Wednesday to examine a training accident that killed seven Marines and wounded eight other servicemen, this remote military town struggled with its grief and strived to help the victims.

"We've lost seven members of our military family who were helping defend our country," said Glenn Carns, general manager of El Capitan Lodge & Casino. "It's the same as if they had died in battle."

A 60-millimeter mortar round exploded in a mortar tube during live-fire training maneuvers Monday night at the Hawthorne Army Depot, about 90 miles southeast of Reno. The incident is under investigation, and use of the 60-millimeter rounds has been suspended.

The Marine Corps identified the dead Wednesday night as Pfc. Joshua M. Martino, 19, of Clearfield, Pa.; Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla.; Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23, of Fairfield, Conn.; Lance Cpl. Joshua C. Taylor, 21, of Marietta, Ohio; Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, of Hickory, N.C.; Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, 21, of Anne Arundel, Md.; and Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda, 26, of Madison, Ill.

The identities of the injured — seven Marines and a Navy corpsman — were not released. All the victims were from the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The unit's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Andrew J. McNulty, praised the Marines and sailors who provided first aid immediately after the explosion, calling it "nothing short of heroic."

"There were numerous acts of selflessness as our injured cared for each other and directed corpsmen to care for more severely injured before being treated themselves," McNulty said in a statement.

Confusion about the death toll had arisen Tuesday night, when a memorial speaker erroneously said an eighth person had died.

On Wednesday night, the Marine Corps said the Navy corpsman was seriously injured, five Marines were seriously injured, and two Marines had been treated for minor injuries and released.

The grim news shook the Mineral County seat of Hawthorne, a hodgepodge of modest homes, small businesses, casinos, veterans organizations and one stoplight.

At the Tuesday night memorial, hundreds of people crowded into a park around a towering American flag. Veterans showed little children how to place their hands over their hearts. Many people held flags or candles and pinned red artificial "buddy poppies" to their lapels or shirt pockets. Poppy sale proceeds were to go to loved ones of those killed and injured.

"Hawthorne is a unique place that has adopted a sense of patriotism that speaks to a bygone era," Mineral County Atty. Sean Rowe said later.

Cassie Dore, owner of the Refinery Restaurant, agreed: "Our sense of community comes from a powerful military link."

Dore was planning "a good old-fashioned Hawthorne-style spaghetti feast" for Wednesday evening, with proceeds going to the families of the dead.

"The feast will also make us a little bit stronger," she said. "We are a family in good times and bad."

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