DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A memorial service was held yesterday at the base chapel at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe for Lance Cpl. Kristen "Keola" Marino, who was killed March 12 in Iraq. Sister Tasha Wallace, left, mother Sandra Marino and stepfather Alfred Marino embraced during the service as a letter was read on behalf of President Bush.
Service recalls Marine's drive
Keola Marino, killed in Iraq, always knew he wanted to enlist
Even before Kristen "Keola" Marino entered the sixth grade at Washington Middle School, he knew he wanted to be a Marine.
Eighteen months after fulfilling that dream, Marine Lance Cpl. Keola Marino, 20, was killed on March 12 in Al Anbar province while on a combat patrol in Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, from Twentynine Palms in Southern California.
Marino's death was just a week before the third anniversary of the war on March 19. He was the 46th Marine with Hawaii ties to have died in Iraq; 76 servicemen and civilians with Hawaii ties have been killed in Iraq.
His stepfather, Alfred Marino, said yesterday he had talked with his stepson two weeks before he was killed in a firefight, and "he said he was coming home." The younger Marino had been fighting in Iraq since September on what was supposed to be a seven-month combat tour.
At his funeral at the chapel at Kaneohe's Marine Corps base, his minister, Francis Kamehele, and close friends -- Shawn Rivera and John Fitzpatrick -- talked about Marino's desire to join the Marines.
Marino was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, which was pinned to his dress blue tunic along with his Overseas Service Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal, National Defense Medal and Good Conduct Medal.
A maile lei and an American flag were draped over his open casket. There was a poster with pictures documenting Marino's brief life -- a Cub Scout outing, frolicking at Sand Island and other beaches, partying and graduating from the National Guard school.
Even after dropping out of McKinley High School during his junior year, Marino realized that to be a Marine, he needed a high school diploma. He enrolled in the Hawaii National Guard's Youth Challenge Academy, graduating in 2003. The academy provides at-risk youths a second chance to obtain their high school diploma.
A year later, Marino enlisted in the Marine Corps and was assigned to the Southern California unit, which deployed to Iraq.
"He always talked about serving his country," Rivera said. "He always talked about being a Marine."
Kamehele said, "All he wanted was to make a better life for his mom and dad and his family."
During his emotion-filled eulogy, Kamehele tearfully described Marino as "a loving son, committed friend, a strong person and a brave soldier."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Lance Cpl. Kristen "Keola" Marino, who was killed March 12 in Iraq, is escorted by an honor guard at his memorial service.
Marino was known for his appetite and especially loved Spam, fried rice and Skittles.
Although "he was a very, very skinny runt of a kid," Kamehele said, "this kid could eat."
Alfred Marino said he "was very proud because he always wanted to be a Marino. I loved my son. His goal was always to take care of his mother. We are very proud to have him as a Marino today."
His mother, Sandra Marino, added: "I feel for every soldier, fallen or not, who is serving our country. I respect their beliefs. I honor their courage, their strength, their wisdom and that they believe in what they are doing for you and I and their fellow soldiers in being in Iraq and fighting for their country. We are all Americans. We all need to be honored and respected."
Friends said Marino was especially close to his mother and surprised her with a necklace the last time he was home six months ago.
"His mom was precious to him," said Rivera.