updated 1/27/2005 10:41:32 PM ET 2005-01-28T03:41:32

Most of the troops lost in the U.S. military’s deadliest crash of the Iraq war were based in Hawaii, but they came from coast to coast, from Florida to New Hampshire, from Ohio to Oregon.

Some of the families of the 30 Marines and a Navy medic killed Wednesday when a helicopter crashed in a sandstorm shared their memories and their grief after military officials told them of the deaths. The Pentagon identified the sailor killed as Petty Officer 3rd Class John D. House, of Ventura, Calif., but said it would not publicly identify the Marines until all families were notified. So far, the families themselves have identified 12 of the Marines.

House was a 28-year-old who never got the chance to meet his baby boy, born Christmas Eve.

House had written letters home describing the camaraderie and responsibility he felt for the Marines in his unit, his parents told the Ventura County Star.

I know all of them ... ’
“In one of the letters he wrote, ’I know all of them ... even in the dark, by their mannerisms,”’ Susan House of Simi Valley, Calif., read, choking back tears. “’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.”’

The CH-53E Super Stallion went down in western Iraq as troops while transporting troops for security operations in preparation of Sunday’s elections. The military was investigating the cause of the crash and gave no indication there had been enemy fire.

Twenty-seven of the dead were based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay, according to Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. It was the single worst loss of Hawaii troops since the attack on Pearl Harbor more than 60 years ago.

The helicopter crew was from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

‘He died a hero and brave’
For Cpl. Matthew Smith, 24, military service had been a lifelong dream. As a child, he would talk about joining the Army to protect his family, said his mother, Colleen Parkin.

Parkin, of West Valley City, Utah, became convinced she had lost her son only after the Marines who came to her home to give the news recited his Social Security number.

“He died a hero and brave,” said Parkin, choking back tears.

Ohio lost at least three Marines in the crash: Cpl. Richard Gilbert Jr., 28, of Dayton; Lance Cpl. Jonathan Edward Etterling, 22, of Wheelersburg; and Sgt. Michael Finke Jr., 28, of Wadsworth.

Etterling had just talked to his parents Saturday, telling them he was tired and had lost more than 15 pounds.

The knock on the door
When Marines came to the family’s house with the bad news, “I prayed, ’Let him be wounded, let him be wounded,”’ his father, William Etterling, told the Portsmouth (Ohio) Daily Times. “My heart just fell.”

Cpl. James Lee Moore’s family heard of the 24-year-old Roseburg, Ore.-native’s death Wednesday night, when several Marines came to their door, said his stepmother, Suzanne Moore.

“It still hasn’t sunk in,” she said. “We can’t get past, ‘We regret to inform you...”’

Hector Ramos, 20, of the Chicago suburb of Aurora, Ill., joined the Marines soon after the 2001 terrorist attacks, his mother said.

“He came home from school and he told me, ’I signed up. I need to do this. I always wanted to,”’ Nancy Ramos told WLS-TV of Chicago on Thursday. “I am the proud mother of a Marine.”

Others killed, according to their families, included Cpl. Sean Kelly, 23, of Pitman, N.J.; Cpl. Timothy Gibson, 23, of Merrimack, N.H.; Lance Cpl. Rhonald Dain Rairdan of San Antonio; Nathan Moore of Champaign, Ill.; and Lance Cpl. Tony Hernandez, 22, of Canyon Lake, Texas.

Anger and acceptance
Some families reacted to the news with anger, others with sad acceptance.

Nadine Finke, stepmother of Michael Finke, said she doesn’t believe there is any 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,” Finke, of Wadsworth, Ohio, told WKYC-TV of Cleveland.

The father of Spc. Gael Saintvil, 24, of Orlando, Fla., said he feared the worst as soon as he heard about the crash.

“It happened for a good cause, for the country. ... Don’t like it, but what’s happened has happened,” Belga Saintvil told WESH-TV in Orlando.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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