By A. BREED and EMERY P. DALESIO, Associated Press
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) — Lance Cpl. Mason Vanderwork loved going to the beach and cruising in his Mustang convertible. He and his wife, Taylor, married the day after she graduated high school and hoped to start a family.
The 21-year-old loved being a Marine and had a tattoo emblazoned on his chest, she said, that read: "Sacrifice. Without fear there is no courage."
He was among the Marines killed in a desert training accident this week — most of them young men not yet weathered by life's hardships.
Just 19, Pfc. Josh Martino of Dubois, Pa., had already spent nearly half his young life dreaming of becoming one of "the few, the proud." He had joined in July and was hoping to marry his fiancee later this year before being deployed to Afghanistan, his mother said.
"Since he was probably 8 years old he wanted to be a Marine," Karen Perry said Wednesday after meeting with military officials to start planning her son's funeral. "That's all he wanted to do."
Lance Cpl. Josh Taylor, 21, also seemed to have been born for the Corps. The Marietta, Ohio, native had talked about being a Marine since he was about 5, said his grandfather, Larry Stephens. Josh, too, was planning for a wedding, scheduled for May.
Both young men were among seven members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force killed late Monday when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Eight men were injured.
Six remained hospitalized in Reno on Thursday, and their overall conditions were improving. Five were listed in fair condition, and one was in serious, compared with two who had been serious a day earlier.
A decade after the invasion of Iraq and nearly 12 years since the United States launched the global war on terror, Americans have become wearily accustomed to the sight of flag-draped coffins being solemnly offloaded at Dover Air Force Base. But news of such loss on American soil, far from any foreign battlefield, has the power to shock.
The bodies of the seven victims arrived Wednesday night at Dover after a procession and small ceremony on the ramp at the Reno airport, said Maj. April Conway, spokeswoman for the Nevada Army National Guard.
During the past dozen years, barber Kenton Jones has touched the heads of many Marines and their family members. And they have touched him. Some of the men who've sat in his chair at Sharpe Cuts II — just up a busy highway from Lejeune's main gate — came home from the Middle East in coffins.
Staring out his window, he couldn't help wondering whether any of those killed or wounded in Nevada had come under his shears.
"During a time of war or whatever, the occupation ... you kind of expect it," he says. "But when it happens here, it seems senseless and it seems like a loss that could have been prevented."
Down the road in Jacksonville, Marine veteran Guy Henry Woods led out-of-state relatives on a tour of the Beirut Memorial, built to honor the 241 Marines, sailors and other American service members who died in a 1983 truck bombing that destroyed their barracks in the Lebanese capital.
Woods, 66, was wounded twice in Vietnam and spent time in a U.S. Navy hospital in Guam. Surrounded by curved glass walls etched with the names of the fallen, Woods said it mattered not whether these Marines died in an accident here at home or on a distant battlefield.
"They put that uniform on, they gain the same respect as anybody that's been to war," the grizzled 20-year veteran said over the sound of the dancing water in the memorial's fountain. "That's the way I personally look at it myself. I still respect them, and I sympathize with them for what happened."
The seven Marines killed ranged in age from 19 to 26. Some had served overseas; others were training for their first deployment. They were in the final night of a training exercise spread out of several days in California and Nevada when the accident occurred.