Six Marines, sailor mourned at memorial service in Iraq

18 Apr 2006 | Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin 1st Marine Logistics Group

Six U.S. Marines and one sailor who died as a result of a vehicle accident earlier this month were memorialized during a service at the Marines’ base here.

Memorialized were: 

* Cpl. David A. Bass, 20, of Nashville, Tenn.
* Lance Cpl. Patrick J. Gallagher, 27, of Jacksonville, Fla.
* Cpl. Brian R. St. Germain, 22, of Warwick, R.I.
* Petty Officer 3rd Class Marcques J. Nettles, 22, of Beaverton, Ore.
* Lance Cpl. Eric A. Palmisano, 27, of Florence, Wis.
* Lance Cpl. Felipe D. Sandoval-Flores, 20, of Los Angeles, Calif.
* Staff Sgt. Abraham G. Twitchell, 28, of Yelm, Wash.

All seven were attached to the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Combat Logistics Battalion 7, which provides logistical support to more than 5,000 U.S. troops in western Al Anbar Province.

These service members, and one other from a different unit, were killed when their 7-ton truck rolled over in a flash flood while out on a combat logistics convoy near Al Asad April 2, according to Marine Corps officials.

Appropriately held inside the unit’s fenced-in garage, where dozens of the unit’s humvees, 7-ton trucks and other vehicles are maintained, hundreds of U.S. service members and civilians attended the memorial service.

Standing atop the backside of a large, military flatbed truck behind a wooden podium, Lt. Col. Drew T. Doolin, the unit’s commanding officer, spoke of the Marines’ sacrifice and offered words of encouragement to those in attendance.

“We honor them best by remaining steady in our resolve, in our professionalism and in our faith in each other,” said Doolin, whose comments opened the hour-long ceremony. “They will not be forgotten.”

A memorial service for the eighth Marine killed in the same accident, 21-year-old Victoria, Texas native, Cpl. Andres Aguilar, of the Hawaii-based 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, was held at the Marines’ base in Haditha last week.

Within a day of the accident, six of the eight deceased U.S. service member’s remains were accounted for.

Two of the men – Nettles and Palmisano – were initially reported as “Duty Status – Whereabouts Unknown” following initial recovery operations, according to Department of Defense press releases.

U.S. and Iraqi troops spent weeks searching the accident site and surrounding areas for Palmisano and Nettles. Palmisano’s remains were recovered April 11, while Nettles’ remains were identified April 21. 

“Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and many friends who grieve their loss,” said Doolin.

Nestled underneath an open, steel-roofed area where normally a large, military truck would be, Marines and other attendees sat and listened as Marines and sailors took turns speaking of the fallen Marines and sailor.

Each spoke while standing on the flatbed truck, just a few feet from the military memorials used to represent each of the dead – rifles mounted, bayonet first, into a wooden base. Placed at the base of each rifle - a pair of tan boots, the same many U.S. service members wear in Iraq. Kevlar helmets were positioned on top of the rifles. Hung from each rifle were dog tags engraved with the ranks and names of the fallen.

“They died doing what they love, and they are deeply missed,” said Capt. Carrie M. Pendroy. Three of the deceased Marines – Twitchell, Bass, and Nettles – were from Pendroy’s unit, Headquarters and Support Company.

Staff Sgt. Abraham G. Twitchell

A true professional, Twitchell, an armorer, was a Marine leader who could be counted on, and liked doing things one way – the right way, according to Gunnery Sgt. Guy W. Dixon, who spoke of Twitchell during the service.

“He wanted Marines to take pride in their job, just like him,” said Dixon, company gunnery sergeant for CLB-7’s H&S Co. “He led by example. He was always smiling and making jokes to lift people’s spirits.”

The legacy Twitchell left behind was more than just his proficiency as a Marine and armorer, but also his love for his family, said Pendroy.

“He was an outstanding Marine for almost 10 years, but most importantly, he was a phenomenal husband and father,” said Pendroy.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Marcques J. Nettles

Always the one to find good in any situation, Nettles was recalled by fellow Navy corpsmen at the service, a person who “never backed away from a challenge,” and was always willing to help a fellow Marine or sailor. 

“He made me realize that there is still good in the world, you just have to look around for it,” said Hospitalman Jorge Arreola, who worked with Nettles at CLB-7’s medical clinic. “If you were searching for hope or just a piece of mind, all you had to do was look at his smile.”

“If someone came back from a convoy in a foul mood, he’d be the one to greet him with a smile and ask, ‘Do you want to talk about it?’ offer a drink, and let the guy vent,” said Petty Officer 1st Class David A. Pope, who also worked with Nettles at the battalion’s medical clinic. “By the end of it, they’re both laughing and things are good. He was a good man and friend.”

Lance Cpl. Eric A. Palmisano

The oldest in his platoon at 27, Palmisano was remembered by fellow Marines as the “old man” of the group, according to Lance Cpl. Christopher R. Leppert, who spoke of both Palmisano and Sandoval-Flores during the service.

“When Palmo was wearing acid-washed jeans and listening to Poison, 90-percent of second platoon was still in diapers,” said Leppert. “By far, me and all who knew Palmo saw him as a father, or at least a big brother.”

Lance Cpl. Felipe D. Sandoval-Flores

Soft at heart, Sandoval-Flores was a good-natured person who often “put on a hard front,” but made people laugh, said Leppert.

“We all talked about what we would do with our money when we got home, whether it was buying a car or getting a tattoo. Sandoval wanted to get his grill pimped out,” said Leppert, who imitated Sandoval-Flores’ “bow flex pose” he was known for. “No matter how mad he made me, he always made me laugh.”

Cpl. David A. Bass

Also noted as a reliable, go-to Marine, Bass, a disbursing clerk, had an “unsurpassed ability to always see the glass half full,” said Pendroy.

“He never said a cross word about anybody,” said Pendroy. “He sincerely loved people…and often spoke of his beautiful wife.”

“I can go on for days about Cpl. Bass,” added Cpl. Michael J. Wagaman, who served with Bass at the base disbursing office here. “He put a smile on your face even during the times when we all feel a little down. I’m still trying to understand why someone so young, so ambitious, so bold, could leave us so soon.”

Lance Cpl. Patrick J. Gallagher

Another person who joined the Marine Corps later in life, 27-year-old Gallagher, a mechanic, was another “old man” of his platoon, and someone who couldn’t stop talking about his family.

“In the rear, when his wife used to make him lunch, he’d give me his chips and anything else he didn’t like, but was too afraid to tell his wife,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher R. Yohe.

Yohe also recalled the time Gallagher swore to Yohe that one of the military vehicles the two worked on together back in the States was not working properly. Yohe and several other Marine mechanics argued with the older Gallagher that the vehicle was working just fine. An instance that highlighted Gallagher’s character, Yohe said Gallagher wouldn’t back down from the argument.

“Even though we went out there three different times, he still swore it was dead,” said Yohe, who added that he later determined that the vehicle did indeed need a new air filter. “He was a great Marine, and a great friend.”

Cpl. Brian R. St. Germain

Cpl. Elena M. Nevels, a bulk fuel specialist with CLB-7, said she didn’t care for St. Germain when she first met him, but that all changed when she began to know the Marine with “a raspy voice.”

“He was overly confident, quiet and somewhat arrogant,” said Nevels. “But over the two years I’ve known him, he grew on me and had an impact on my life.”

A martial arts enthusiast, St. Germain could “talk for hours” about the subject. In the garage, the 22-year-old mechanic always seemed to find a way to get himself dirty, even performing minor jobs on vehicles, said Nevels.

“At the shop we all joked that he just rubbed grease all over himself to make it look like he was working harder than he actually did,” she said. “I would give anything right now to see him completely covered in grease from head to toe.”

The ceremony ended with several biblical readings, a live rendition of “Amazing Grace,” rendition and the playing of taps.

“We will remember them forever as heroes,” said Navy Lt. Diana Lantz, CLB-7’s chaplain. “Men, who as sons, fathers, husbands, and brothers, spoke to us and their smiles and their professionalism and their enthusiasm for life…will be remembered.”

The seven deaths are the most casualties the battalion has suffered at one time since arriving in Iraq nearly two months ago. Despite the loss, the battalion must continue with its mission, said Doolin.

“We must continue to provide the best combat logistics support available and possible to the finest fighting force on the earth,” said Doolin. “That’s what we do, and that’s what these warriors did. They would want us to do no less.”

Following the memorial service, Marines who attended, many in tears, approached the rifle display to pay final respects and give final, silent ‘good-byes’ to friends lost. Some took photographs from afar of the memorial display, while others touched the boots or gripped the dog tags – eyes closed and heads bowed – to offer silent prayers.

Some consoled one another with hugs and whispered words of encouragement, while others still, like Pope, stared at the memorials from a distance in silence.

“I was thinking, ‘What a tragic loss, to lose eight good men,’” said Pope, a 36-year-old from Joshua Tree, Calif. Pope also knew Twitchell, and said he briefly knew the other fallen service members from their visits to the battalion’s medical clinic.

“I was thinking of the rest of my corpsmen and how this (tragedy) will impact the rest of their lives and this deployment – how I must show them the way to move past this and get the rest of them home alive,” said Pope.

CLB-7 is part of the Camp Pendleton, Calif.-based 1st Marine Logistics Group, which provides logistical support to more than 23,000 U.S. troops and other Coalition Forces operating throughout Al Anbar Province, to include food, ammunition, mail and water.

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