Hawaii-based Marines honor four fallen in Iraq
By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle
1st Marine Division
May 5, 2006
HADITHA, Iraq — A Marine sat on a collapsible metal chair with several other warriors seated around him and stared at four sets of dog tags, combat boots, rifles and Kevlar helmets.
Tears welled up in his eyes as he slowly let his head drop into his hands. The tears fell, splashing the concrete floor.
This Marine is one of hundreds from the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment who are still mourning the loss of Staff Sgt. Jason C. Ramseyer, who was killed two weeks ago in an explosion from an improvised explosive device.
IEDs – roadside bombs used by insurgents in Iraq to target Coalition and Iraqi Forces – are the number one killer of U.S. troops in Iraq, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count – an organization which tallies U.S. and coalition casualties based off Department of Defense press releases.
In a solemn ceremony at the Marines forward operating base here April 30, the Marines honored four more of their own killed recently during combat operations in Al Anbar Province. Among the deceased are: Sgt. Edward G. Davis, 31, of Waukegan, Ill.; Sgt Lea R. Mills, 21, of Brooksville, Fla.; and Cpl. Brandon M. Hardy, 25, of Cochranville, Pa.; who were killed April 28, 2006, when their vehicle struck and IED.
Cpl. Eric R. Lueken, 23, of Jasper, Ind., was also killed by an IED April 22, 2006.
Davis, Mills and Hardy were assigned to the Camp Pendleton, Calif. – based 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion and were attached to 3/3 for duty. Lueken was assigned to 3/3.
Individual eulogies were read for each of the fallen service members by Marines who served with them.
Many of the Marines sat stone faced and tried to hide their emotions as they reflected on the fallen’s lives.
“These Marines are not heroes because of how they died,” said 2nd Lt. Rajesh Mistry. “They are heroes because of how they lived.”
Some Marines could only offer a few words to describe their fallen comrades.
“Lueken was the kind of guy you could go to and tell how bad your day was and he would make it better,” said Cpl. William Harrison. “It was still registering to me that he is no longer with us.”
Sgt. Jim Coelho, 3rd Assault Amphibious Battalion, worked very closely with Davis, Mills and Hardy.
“The Marines are not laughing and joking with each other like they usually do,” said Coelho. “We were all close; we were all brothers.”
Gunnery Sgt. Jeff Duncan was the platoon sergeant for Davis, Mills and Hardy, and recalled characteristics of each one.
“Each one of them had something different to offer the company,” said Duncan. “Davis we called ‘Manimal’ because he was always lifting weights. Mills could fix practically anything, and Hardy was a good leader who knew his job well.”
Duncan said Davis, who would have been promoted May 1, will be posthumously promoted to staff sergeant.
During the memorial, Navy Lt. Paul Tremblay led the singing of a hymn called “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” –
“Eternal Father strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bids the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep,
O hear us when we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea.
“Eternal Father grant we pray,
To all Marines both night and day,
The courage honor strength and skill,
Their land to serve the law fulfill,
Be thou the shield forevermore,
From every Peril to the Corps.”
After the playing of “Taps,” the Marines paid final respects to the fallen and left the makeshift chapel the same way they shuffled in – with solemn faces.
The battalion is scheduled to return to the United States later this Fall.
Salem, Ore., Marine injured in Iraq tells of IED aftermath
By Sgt. Roe F. Seigle
1st Marine Division
May 25, 2006
HADITHA, Iraq (May 25, 2006) — When some Marines return from Iraq, they bring back memorabilia, such as tattered Iraqi flags or old photos of Saddam Hussein they found in cluttered streets.
Some, like 20-year-old Lance Cpl. Jeremy Russell of Salem, Ore., will bring back memories of actions on the battlefield and scars from being wounded in action.
Russell, an infantryman with Weapons Company of the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, was manning a machine gun turret in a Humvee struck by an improvised explosive, or IED, last month.
The battalion arrived in Iraq two months ago, and has since had to deal with numerous IEDs while patrolling the streets in the Haditha “Triad” region – an area of about 75,000 people along the Euphrates River in western Al Anbar Province and renowned insurgent hotspot.
The blast left him with a piece of shrapnel embedded in his right hand and a severely bruised leg, and left three other Marines dead: Sgt. Lea Mills, 21, from Brooksville, Fla.; Sgt. Edward G. Davis, 31, from Antioch, Ill.; and Cpl. Brandon M. Hardy, 25, from Cochranville, Pa.
“I thought I was going to die,” said Russell.
The IED struck Russell’s vehicle during a three-hour mission to recover another U.S. military vehicle.
With vehicle in tow, the Marine convoy was enroute to their base at the Haditha Dam. It was 2:30 a.m., and the night seemed quiet, said Russell.
“I could hear the Marines below me talking about their families while I was in the turret,” said Russell. “I just kept my eyes on the road behind me to make sure there were no vehicles approaching.”
Still, he kept alert to ensure no vehicles approached the U.S. convoy. Aside from IEDs, vehicle suicide bombers are also a threat in Al Anbar Province, said Russell.
Russell said the Marines’ talking in the vehicle “died down a little” just seconds before an earth-shattering explosion, which was followed by two fireballs on either side of the vehicle. Russell tucked his chin and closed his eyes, hoping to avoid the majority of the blast. He did. The blast destroyed the rear left side of the humvee and flipped the vehicle 180 degrees onto its left side.
Russell was ejected from the vehicle onto the roadway and feared the vehicle would rollover on top of him.
“It felt like minutes had past and everything was in slow motion,” recalled Russell. “But it really took only two seconds for the IED to detonate and throw the vehicle on its side.”
As he laid in the street, disoriented from the blast, Russell, who is serving his first combat deployment since he joined the Marine Corps in 2004 to “see the world,” remembers smelling fuel – a leak from the vehicle’s gas tank.
He also saw the vehicles three other passengers lying motionless in the street. Two of the Marines were killed on impact and another died a short time later, according to medical records. Russell climbed back into the humvee to notify the other Marines in the convoy of his situation, but the radio was broken.
Russell then notified Marines ahead of him in the convoy by using luminous flares he located in the vehicle. He also rearmed himself with his M16 rifle, ready to fight off a secondary attack.
Believing he was the only Marine around, Russell saw Lance Cpl. Cheyenne Macintosh, an Assault Amphibian Vehicle crewman from Seaman, Ohio. Macintosh was traveling back to Haditha Dam in the same convoy as Russell.
Macintosh, 20, was checking the mortally-wounded Marines when he noticed Russell had survived the blast and was completely covered in soot.
Staff Sgt. Michael Woodridge, 28, a section leader assigned to Weapons Company, had several other Marines from other vehicles in the convoy secure the area and be watchful for a secondary attack.
“It was chaotic,” said Woodridge, a native of Augusta, Ga. “The back end of the humvee was completely gone.”
Shortly after, Russell was evacuated by helicopter to a near-by medical facility. As his adrenaline began to wear off, he began to feel the pain from his injuries on the helicopter, he said. Shrapnel was lodged in his hand, his right leg throbbed in pain after he was tossed around inside the turret, and eventually ejected onto the ground, he said.
Russell, who is now fully recovered and back to daily patrols with his unit, says the incident has not deterred him from patrolling daily. Given the chance, he’ll deploy again to Iraq after his battalion returns to the U.S. in the Fall, he said.
“I never imagined I would be in a life-or-death situation,” said Russell. “When I joined the Marine Corps, the only thing I knew about combat was what I saw on TV shows like M.A.S.H.”
As Russell recovers from his injuries to his hand and leg, his fellow Marines say he still has high spirits.
“Russell has kept his head up high and still has his sense of humor,” said Macintosh. “It helps everyone else in the platoon stay in high spirits until we can go home.”
Ex-Antioch man dies in Iraq
Marine was known for humor, family
By Dave Wischnowsky || May 04, 2006
In a family full of men named Eddie, Marine Sgt. Edward Davis III was still one of a kind, his sister said.
“He was a funny, funny guy,” Rachael Rodriguez of Winthrop Harbor said Wednesday about her brother, a former Antioch resident who attended Warren Township High School in Gurnee in the early 1990s and is one of six family members named Edward.
“Eddie could always make people laugh. He had a great sense of humor and the biggest dimples,” she said. “And he just loved his family and his kids so much.”
Davis, 31, was killed early Friday after the Humvee he was riding in was struck by a bomb in the Al Anbar province of Iraq, the Department of Defense confirmed this week. He was one of three soldiers killed in the incident.
Davis is the third former Warren Township High School student to die in Iraq since the war began three years ago.
A Marine since 1999, Davis had volunteered earlier this year for duty in Iraq, his family said.
On Wednesday, Rodriguez was driving with relatives to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where Davis was stationed and his body was scheduled to arrive from overseas.
Davis will be honored at 9 a.m. Thursday in a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, Rodriguez said. His remains will be cremated, she said.
In California, Davis leaves behind a wife, Preina, and three children, Priscilla, 10, Alyssa, 3, and Edward Davis IV, 2, who shared the same birthday with his father, Rodriguez said.
Other survivors include his father, Edward Jr. of Kenosha; his mother, Nancy Komes of Bullhead, Ariz.; a stepmother; two other sisters; and two brothers.
Just about a week before his death, Davis ran into his first cousin Andy Saam, 24, a Marine stationed in Iraq, Rodriguez said.
“They got a chance to talk for about an hour and a half,” she said. “I think myself, personally, I had a false sense of security [about Davis] because my cousin was on his second trip to Iraq.
“I guess I thought because he had been safe there, it probably wasn’t as bad as they were saying. I thought they were helping more than fighting.”
Rodriguez said her family is still in shock over Davis’ death. However, they intend to spend this week at Camp Pendleton celebrating her brother’s life, rather than mourning him.
“The next couple days are going to be really hard,” she said. “But I brought copies of all my pictures of Eddie, and we’re all telling stories. We’re trying to remember the good times and not focus on the tragedy.”
The other Warren students who died in Iraq were Marine Lance Cpl. Sean Maher of Gages Lake and Marine Pfc. Geoffrey Morris of Gurnee.
Maher, who was killed near Al Anbar province in February 2005, and Morris, who was killed near Fallujah in April 2004, were 2003 graduates.
Copyright © Chicago Tribune 2006
Marine is county’s first Iraq war death
Sgt. Lea R. Mills, 21, a graduate of Hernando High School, was killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol.
By Jonathan Abel and Asjylyn Loder || April 29, 2006
BROOKSVILLE – The first time Lea R. Mills came into Christine Kostis’ classroom at Hernando High School, Kostis mispronounced his name.
“I said Lea, like L-E-A-H,” Kostis recalled. He was used to it. “He said, “It’s Lea like pea, P-E-A. Doesn’t that make sense?”
Four years later, after graduating from high school, after joining the Marine Corps, after marrying his high school sweetheart, after getting promoted to sergeant and being sent to Iraq, Lea is still remembered vividly by teachers at Hernando High.
But on Friday, Mills’ family learned the 21-year-old had been killed by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Iraq. He is the first Hernando County man to be killed in the war in Iraq. Michael Schafer of Spring Hill died in Afghanistan in July.
Mills, of Masaryktown, joined the Marines after graduation in 2002 and had recently reupped to serve longer. His father, Rob Mills, said Lea asked to go to Iraq and had been there just six weeks when he was killed.
“He felt he needed to go and wanted to go, so he volunteered,” his father said. “Everybody in the family, on the men’s side, has been in the service. We believe we owe it to our country.”
The Department of Defense would not comment Friday on the circumstances of Mills’ death, including when and where he was killed.
At the end of August 2004, Mills married Keesha Malicoate, who was two years behind him in school. They were living together in Oceanside, Calif., before Mills’ deployment to Iraq.
“It wasn’t an infatuation love like you see in junior high school,” said teacher John Miller, who knew both of them. “They were soul mates.”
Mills was so close to his best friend, Josh Perdue, that the two went everywhere together, even into the Marines.
Perdue was on a helicopter training mission in North Carolina when he heard about his friend’s death, said his mother, Pam Perdue. She said her son was devastated. So was she.
“I had just talked to his mom,” Pam Perdue said. “She (asked Lea), “Do you sleep with one eye open?’ He said, “No, with both eyes open.’ She could tell by talking to him that he was stressed.”
Before they enlisted, Mills and Perdue were livening up Miller’s American government and economics classes.
“They kind of skated, but they loved school. They were the kind of goof-offs you liked,” Miller said. “They always participated when we talked about the military.”
A few years after graduating, Mills came back to Hernando High to give a motivational speech. He told the kids to buckle down and study. If he had it to do over, he said, he would have been valedictorian.
Miller said his demeanor had changed. “Lea had something with his voice that would crack like a teenager,” Miller remembers. “He came back from the Marines and he had a man’s voice.”
On Friday, hours before she heard about Mills’ death, art teacher Roxanne Campbell was thinking of him. During first period, she was showing her class one of Mills’ pieces – a clay slab with a cartoon of an American soldier carved in it – and talking about her former student. When she heard of Lea’s death, the coincidence was eerie.
Lea left behind a 17-year-old brother, Parker Mills, who has talked about enlisting and wants to be a pilot. Parker decided to go to school Friday after hearing the news about his brother. The Nature Coast Technical High School student told his father he needed to stay busy and wanted to be with his friends.
Mother Dee Mills, who got the call at 6:15 Friday morning from her daughter-in-law, flew to California to be with Keesha.
Mills had asked to be buried on a family plot in White Plains, Miss. His father said the family will hold a memorial service in Hernando County after the funeral.
“He loved what he did. He was very proud of what he did. We’re extremely proud of him,” Rob Mills said. “He died for what he believed in.”
At Hernando High, guidance counselor Melody Whitaker was looking over a yearbook. She cried as she pointed to the Class of 2002’s motto: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
Copyright © Tampa Bay Times 2006