MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Hawaii — Servicemen draped flight gear on 12 white crosses Jan. 22 to commemorate the Marines who died when two helicopters crashed off the coast of Hawaii during a nighttime training mission.
Military members and families gathered for a memorial service at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe after the status of the dozen missing Marines changed to deceased following five days of searching.
Enlarged pictures of the men and the crosses were lined up on a tarmac where a helicopter was parked. Servicemen placed flight vests, rifles, flight helmets, combat boots and leis on each of the crosses. Families approached the displays to pay their respects.
The commanding officer of the squadron, Lt. Col. Eric D. Purcell, thanked the Coast Guard for their efforts and said that some of the rescuers were at the service.
“The sadness that this loss brings to their families and to this squadron is immeasurable,” Purcell said. “They were in the prime of their life, full of joy and hope — only to be taken from us in an instant.”
At the service, a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and a Marine band played taps, while fellow Marines shared vignettes about the fallen service members. Capt. Brian Kennedy would make helicopter noises over the chopper radio, and Sgt. Dillon Semolina deployed to Australia and returned with an Australian wife.
President Barack Obama said in a statement Jan. 22 that the country is grateful for the service and sacrifice of the 12 Marines.
“The willingness of our troops to complete dangerous training to prepare for any mission our nation asks of them will not be forgotten,” his statement said.
The crews belonged to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The search for them began Jan. 14 when a witness on a beach reported seeing the helicopters flying and then a fireball.
The Marines were alerted when the CH-53E helicopters each carrying six crew members failed to return to their base. Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris 2 1/2 miles off of Oahu.
The search ended Jan. 19 after the around-the-clock, multiagency effort failed to locate any sign of the service members.
The Marines were:
- Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas.
- Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia.
- Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis.
- Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Ala.
- Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, Chaska, Minn.
- Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardners, Penn.
- Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, S.C.
- Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Ala.
- Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Spring, Texas.
- Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Fla.
- Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Mass.
- Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Ore.