"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.
While many had long dreamed of being Marines, some were already making plans for a life after the Corps.
Twenty-six-year-old Aaron Ripperda of Highland, Ill., joined the service after graduating from a St. Louis culinary school and finding the job market flat. His father tried to gently dissuade him.
"He told us he always felt like he had a calling to join the Marines," Kent Ripperda told The Associated Press from his home in Marine, Ill. "I guess maybe it was a prestige thing."
He enlisted in 2008, did a tour in Afghanistan in 2011 and was just a couple months from finishing his stint in the Marines. He was looking forward to returning home and attending Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville this fall, his father said.
Kent Ripperda said his son was eager to go back to college and "get on with his life."
Roger Muchnick, 23, who grew up in Westport, Conn., had already pulled one tour in Afghanistan and was thinking about returning to college after his enlistment was up, said his grandfather, Jerome Muchnick.
Muchnick played on the football and lacrosse teams at Staples High School and went on to play lacrosse at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he studied business. In a biography on the university's website, Muchnick said the one thing he would like to do before he died was "live," and that his most embarrassing moment was getting caught lip-synching in a school talent show.
"He was a fabulous kid. Just fabulous," his grandfather said. "He was at the top of his game when this happened. ... You can't imagine losing a very handsome, 23-year-old grandson who was vital and loving."
Lance Cpl. William Taylor Wild IV, 21, joined the Marines shortly after graduating in 2010 form Severna Park High School near Annapolis, Md. His mother, Elizabeth Wild, said he was in a weapons platoon that was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in November. He already had been deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait.
Wild said her son always wanted to go into the military, like his father, who is a command chief in the Air Force Reserve at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
The military identified the other Marine who was killed as Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla. he joined the Marines in June 2010 and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, a spokesman for the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force said in a written statement.
On Thursday, the military released the names of six of the eight people who were injured. They are Lance Cpl. Sean J. Burke, Lance Cpl. Douglas L. Hand II, Lance Cpl. Myles E. Harris, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Ian S. McClanahan, Sgt. Caleb W. Patton, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Ryan P. West.
McClanahan was the only one classified as "very seriously injured."
The explosion Monday caused an immediate suspension of the use of 60 mm mortars by the Marine Corps, with an exemption for troops in Afghanistan, U.S. military and Marine officials said. Marine units on the warfront may continue to use the mortars with the review and approval of their commanders. U.S. military officials in Afghanistan said they have not stopped using the mortars there.
The suspension, which will be in effect until the accident investigation is complete, largely affects units that are training, although those Marines could use the larger and more powerful 81 mm mortar systems if needed.