Profiles show
a belief in their
mission to defend

Nancy Ramos received a phone call Wednesday from a Marine sergeant who told her someone from Aurora, Ill., had been killed but that he had not heard anything about her son.

"I told him let me know who the mother was because I want to give her some flowers," she said in a telephone interview from Aurora.

"Five minutes after I hung up, the Marines were at my door. It was my son," she sobbed.

Similar scenes were played out across the country this week as the families of 30 Marines and a Navy corpsman received word that their loved ones were killed Wednesday in a helicopter crash in western Iraq.

Ramos' son, Lance Cpl. Hector Ramos, was one of 27 Oahu-based service members killed Wednesday; 26 were Kaneohe Marines, one a Pearl Harbor-based sailor. The four others who died were the crew of the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter and were based out of San Diego. They came from across the country -- from New Hampshire to California -- and many were inspired by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to join the military.

While the names of all the dead have not been released, here is a look at those who have been identified by either the Department of Defense or the families.

Lance Cpl. Hector Ramos, 20, of Aurora, Ill., came home from school on Sept. 11, 2001, and told his mother he joined the Marines. It was something he wanted to do since he was a "little kid." Ramos loved drawing and promised his mother that on his next leave home, he would draw a picture of her and that he would take her to Hawaii.

When his brother Noah, 21, joined the Marines, Hector was thrilled, Nancy Ramos said.

Noah Ramos is in boot camp at Camp Pendleton, and she fears he could be sent to Iraq. "I couldn't bear to lose another son," she said.

Spc. Gael Saintvil, 24, of Orlando, Fla., was living his father's dream of serving in the military. Belga Saintvil, a Haitian immigrant who repairs rides at Walt Disney World, said he never had the opportunity to serve.

"When I see my son be part of a great country like America, I am proud of that," he said.

"He pay the country back for what the country did for me," Saintvil said. "Yes, it is a high price, but you got to do what you have to do."

Gael Saintvil was a sharpshooter with the special security forces and had survived the battle of Fallujah in November without a scratch.

Cpl. Sean Kelly, 23, of Pitman, N.J., "took shrapnel in the battle for Fallujah," said his mother, Lynn. "This is what's so ironic. He got through all that and for this to happen.

"He told his father that Fallujah was rough, that they were getting shot every day. When it started winding down, you could just tell he was relieved."

Kelly was supposed to leave Iraq by Feb. 7.

Even before the two Marines showed up at her door, Lynn Kelly had had a bad feeling upon learning of the helicopter crash. "Call it mother's intuition," she said.

"I wish he would have stayed at home," his father said. "He's our hero."

"Sean was a very huge part of this community," Lynn Kelly said. "He was loud. You knew when Sean was around. He even talked in his sleep. He lived life large."

Kelly's brother Ryan, 25, a Marine lance corporal, is stationed at Camp LeJeune, N.C.

Lance Cpl. Jonathan Edward Etterling, 22, of Wheelersburg, Ohio, called his parents Saturday saying they were getting ready to move north.

"He didn't say where," Kay Etterling said. "Nobody knows where the elections were going to be. Normally he moved in a convoy, but for some reason they put him on a helicopter. We don't know why."

Etterling went to boot camp with his three best friends. Two of the friends will soon leave for Iraq, and Kay Etterling is concerned for their mothers.

"Their mothers are very shaky about it. Since we've lost Jon, it's even worse."

Etterling said her son was well liked, honest, not afraid to speak his mind, as well as a joker, a good Christian who loved life.

"Every teacher that ever had him said he was just a wonderful kid," though he was an average student. "He worked hard at it."

Lance Cpl. Rhonald Dain Rairdan was preparing for his last mission before his Marine Corps unit rotated out of Iraq when he called home on Monday.

"He told us that they were getting ready to get on a helicopter to go someplace for the (Iraq national) election," his father, David, said yesterday afternoon. "Then they were going to go back to their ships."

David Rairdan, who retired from the Air Force last summer after 24 years, said his son's unit deployed to the Middle East in October, about four months after he joined the Marines.

Twenty-year-old Dain, as he was called by his friends and family, grew up in Medina County just outside San Antonio and was a machine gunner stationed at Kaneohe.

Cpl. Timothy Gibson, 23, of Merrimack, N.H., had enlisted in the Marine Corps in April 2001.

"He said that he thought he was doing good and that he was helping people, but it was different than anything he could have expected," his mother, Elaine, said yesterday.

"He said he wanted to sit down and talk about what he had been through," she said. "Now we'll never know."

Cpl. Matthew Smith, 24, of West Valley City, Utah, was assisting U.S. forces in securing Fallujah, Iraq, for this weekend's elections.

"He died a hero and brave," said his mother, Colleen Parkin, choking back tears.

Smith's father, Gary, described the Marines marksman as a news junkie, always hungry for timely updates from newspapers, magazines and especially from the family.

He was proud to be serving his country, Gary Smith said. For his son, being a soldier had been a lifelong dream. As a child, Smith would talk about joining the Army to protect his family.

"He would walk around and say, 'I'm going to protect you guys,'" Parkin said, smiling at the memory of her gun-loving toddler.

Cpl. Richard Gilbert Jr., 28, of Dayton, Ohio, had been scheduled to return home next week after being in Iraq since August, said his mother, Helen.

"The last time I talked to him was Monday," she said. "He was tired and anxious to get a shower."

Gilbert joined the Marines in December 2001 following the terrorist attacks. "There was no talking him out of it," she said.

Sgt. Michael Finke Jr., 28, of Wadsworth, Ohio, had been a Marine for nine years. He had told his family a day before the crash that he was headed on a special mission.

Finke's stepmother said she cannot find justification for the war that claimed his life. "I'm sure there are many other parents out there that don't think there is, either," Nadine Finke said.

Cpl. James Lee Moore, 24, of Roseburg, Ohio, had been in Iraq since late summer.

"It still hasn't sunk in," his stepmother, Suzanne Moore, said. "We can't get past 'We regret to inform you.'"

When his time in the Marines was up, Moore had thought of going to Montana to train to become a hunting or fishing guide, his stepmother said.

"James was just an awesome kind of person," she said. "He could come over and just show up out of the blue, bring you a cappuccino and know exactly how you like it. He was really generous, really good."

Nathaniel Moore, 21, of Champaign, Ill., came from a line of military men. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather served in the U.S. armed forces.

His aunt Jodee Bean of Quitman, Texas, remembered her nephew as being happy and very close to his mother.

"He loved sports. Nathan was really into gymnastics -- I remember him doing flips around the house -- and baseball," she said. "He wasn't going to let nothing stop him."

Cpl. Kyle J. Grimes of Bethlehem, Pa., wanted to work for the FBI after he got out of the Marines, according to his mother, Marybeth LeVan, who lives in Baton Rouge, La.

"His dedication made him a good Marine," LeVan said. "He was always a mama's boy, so lovable and affectionate and really sentimental. We always could talk really well."

LeVan said her 21-year-old son's death has strengthened her belief in the U.S. mission in Iraq.

"It makes me more convinced that we need to get this job done and have a positive influence there and make things better," she said.

But his grandmother, Kathleen Grimes, disagreed. "I think they should all come home," she said.

Petty Officer 3rd Class John Daniel House, 28, of Ventura, Calif., was in Iraq when his son was born on Christmas Eve, but he was able to hear little James' first cries of life over a satellite phone. A few days later, a video hookup allowed House to see him.

But the 28-year-old Navy medic never got to meet his son face to face.

House, who was stationed at Pearl Harbor, was scheduled to return next month to his wife and son on Oahu.

In a letter to his family, he had written of bonding with his military comrades and of worrying constantly about them, said his mother, Susan, of Simi Valley, Calif.

"I know all of them ... even in the dark, by their mannerisms," he wrote home. "I don't know how I am going to deal with losing any of them. It is my job to take care of them and keep them safe."

Star-Bulletin reporter Leila Fujimori and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment
Marine Corps Base Hawaii

E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com