DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Boots, rifles, helmets and dog tags honoring four Marines killed recently in Afghanistan were displayed at services yesterday at the Marine base in Kaneohe.
Families honor fallen Kaneohe Marines
Nearly 900 fellow Marines and sailors also pay respects
They came from all walks of life -- from a Navajo reservation to the suburbs of Milwaukee.
They were all volunteers, and they all understood they would end up fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan after the tragic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But most of all, all four were Marines, said Lt. Col. James Donnellan, who commanded their unit -- Kaneohe's 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment -- in Afghanistan from July 2005 to January.
All of them -- members of Echo Company -- were killed last year while serving in the northeast region of Afghanistan in the remote Kunar province near Jalalabad, a dangerous area with extensive extremist activities.
Yesterday, the nearly 900 members of the 2nd Island Warrior Battalion paid their last respects to their fallen comrades at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.
The Marines and sailors stood in formation before a replica of the World War II memorial, which pays tribute to one of the high points in the history of the Marine Corps: The raising of the American flag on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima during World Ward II.
In his eulogy, Donnellan, who assumed command of the 2nd Battalion in July 2005, described Lance Cpl. Steven A. Valdez, 20, as "athletic," and whose nickname was "platoon stud."
Valdez, who joined the Marine Corps in June 2004, was killed Sept. 26 during an enemy mortar attack on his camp.
Lance Cpl. Kevin B. Joyce, 19, was said to have been "reserve, but very confident."
Donnellan said Joyce died June 25 when he jumped into the Pech River because his Humvee was about to tumble into the water. His body was recovered on July 4.
There were nearly two dozen members of Joyce's family -- including his mother, Effelita George, and his grandfather, Dan -- who attended yesterday's memorial service. Joyce's family was described as having long-standing ties to the Marine Corps, starting with a grandfather who was a member of the famed Navajo Codetalkers in the Pacific campaign.
Lance Cpl. Ryan J. Nass, 21, was described by a member of Echo Company as "best friend." He died Sept. 3.
Friends said Lance Cpl. Phillip C. George, 22, loved being a Marine, and loved all of the corps' traditions. He was shot by enemy small arms fire Aug. 18 while on patrol near Taleban.
Capt. John McShane, commander of Echo Company, told the crowd of several hundred Marines, sailors, family members, friends and military and civilian leaders that the deaths of the four Marines "made all of us stronger and better."
More than 38 family members of the four Marines made the trip to the islands to attend yesterday's memorial service.
"My first reaction in putting together this ceremony was to focus on the families of our fallen Marines. This is our final responsibility of our most recent deployment," he said.
"This is no longer the case. We are here for the families, but we are here for all the Marines and sailors standing before you."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The sister and parents of Lance Cpl. Phillip C. George -- Sara, left, Carson and Penny -- were joined by Gov. Linda Lingle at yesterday's service for four Kaneohe Marines killed in Afghanistan.
McShane also talked about the accomplishments of the 2nd Battalion during its nearly eight months in Afghanistan.
"During that time, we provided security for the first free elections in almost 30 years," he said.
"We brought doctors, Navy corpsmen and medicine to the area. We delivered supplies of food, clothes, school supplies, seeds and clean water.
"I am very proud of our accomplishments on Afghanistan. It was a worthwhile effort ... We made an impression on the lives of people who live on the edge of civilization," he told the crowd.
He said the lives of the four Marines were not wasted. "There are now thousands of people who have water, health care ..." because of people like them.
Donnellan said the Afghans will remember that George, Valdez, Joyce and Nass were among those "who brought security and clean water to their villages, books to their schools and hope to their parents."
The nearly hour-long memorial service ended with Sgt. Maj. Robert LaFleur calling out final roll call for the four.
When the name of each fallen Marine was called, a member of his squad stepped forward. The Marine planted an inverted M-16 rifle into the ground while other squad members draped the Marine's helmet and dog tags on the weapon and laid his boots at the edge of the bayonet.