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Marines and family gather to 'Honor the Dead' at Camp Pendleton

April 12, 2012 |  3:45 pm

Sgt. John Kladitis at the battlefield cross display for Sgt. William Stacey
His voice quivering, Marine Cpl. Joseph Orr spoke Thursday of the death of his friend and fellow scout-sniper in Afghanistan.

“I broke down in tears when I heard about his death,” Orr said. “It hurt, and it’s painful. I love you, and I miss you, Ben.”

Lance Cpl. Benjamin Schmidt  was one of five Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment killed during the battalion’s recent deployment to Helmand province, long a Taliban stronghold.

For 90 minutes, other Marines told a memorial gathering at Camp Pendleton of their love for the fallen: Schmidt; Staff Sgt. Stephen Dunning; Lance Cpl. Kenneth Cochran; Cpl. Jonluke Bateman; and Sgt. William Stacey.

Schmidt, 24, was killed by "friendly fire." Dunning, 31, died while trying to find and detonate the enemy’s roadside bombs. Cochran and Bateman, both 22, were electrocuted in an accident on base. Stacey, 23, a squad leader, was killed by a roadside bomb while on a foot patrol.

“Today we remember five of our brothers,” said Lt. Col. William Vivian, the battalion commander. “These five young men inspire us all.”

Capt. Thaddeus Drake quoted a funeral speech attributed to Army Gen. George Patton: “It is foolish and wrong that we mourn these men. Instead we should thank God that such men exist.”

At the end of the ceremony, Sgt. Maj. Donald K. Williams gave the traditional order “Honor The Dead,” which was followed by "Taps."

Marines and family members aproached the battlefield crosses, the individual displays of combat boots, dog tags and inverted rifles.

“He had a lot of plans, but he wouldn’t want us to be sad,” Casey Schmidt, 22, said of her brother.

“It was his honor to die for his country,” Sgt. Dane Bell said of Stacey, who left behind a letter saying that if were killed in combat not to mourn because he had died for something he believed in.

Memorial services have been a common occurrence at Camp Pendleton in the past 10-plus years of war. There have been fewer of late, with the U.S. out of Iraq and winding down in Afghanistan.

But the memorial for the Two-Four will not be the last at this sprawling base. When the battalion left Afghanistan last month, it was replaced in the trouble spots of Now Zad and Musa Qal-eh by the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton.

And on Thursday, just as the Two-Four memorial service began, the Department of Defense announced the death of another Camp Pendleton Marine in Afghanistan: Lance Cpl. Ramon Kaipat, assigned to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

Kaipat, 22, of Tacoma, Wash., was on his second deployment to Afghanistan.

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-- Tony Perry at Camp Pendleton

Photo: Sgt. John Kladitis at the battlefield cross display for Sgt. William Stacey. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

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