O. C.'s 1st War Casualty : Pendleton Marine 1 of 11 Killed
The Persian Gulf War hit home with a personal fury for Orange County today as Camp Pendleton announced that four of the 11 Marines killed in the first major ground battle had been based there.
At least one, Cpl. Stephen E. Bentzlin, a member of a Marine light infantry battalion, lived in San Clemente.
Bentzlin, 23, was originally from Wood Lake, Minn., about 120 miles west of Minneapolis. He is survived by a wife, Carol, and three stepchildren.
He is Orange County’s first known casualty of war as the conflict enters its third week.
The military released only the hometowns of the dead, not cities where they had been residing.
San Clemente, where many Camp Pendleton-based Marines live, waited anxiously today for more word on the casualties. Some residents were seen crying on the streets as the news spread. A few put on additional yellow ribbons to honor U.S. soldiers. And the City Hall lowered its American flag to half-staff.
“We intend to be in contact with the Marine Corps just to find out if there’s something we can do to help,” said Michael L. Sorg, interim assistant city manager.
“There were people running around all morning trying to find out who the names were,” said Doris Schwartz, who owns the I Love Games Too shop in the city and catered to many of the local Marines. “They were like family here.”
Schwartz said Bentzlin and his wife had stopped in the shop several times. While Schwartz said she did not know the couple well, the corporal’s name hung with dozens of others on a “tree of remembrance” she set up in the shop.
“Everyone’s waiting to see names that they know, and they’re scared,” she said.
In Wood Lake, where Bentzlin had lived since the seventh grade, flags were also at half-staff. In a town of just 400, word spread fast about the hometown Marine. No one had to ask who the young man was, said high school Principal Jerry Tischer. Everyone knew him.
“Everyone was taken by suprise,” said high school teacher Myron Hagelstrom. “Last night, those 12 people were just 12 people; today they became a lot more real. Now you’re saying it might happen to your cousin or your brother.”
Bentzlin played varsity football and basketball and ran some track, school officials said. He was quiet, but always well liked by classmates and teachers both, they said. “He was just a real nice kid,” Hagelstrom said.
His mother, Barbara Anderson, said, “I did support what he had chosen to do. He believed in his country. He was there for all of us, not only for himself but for all of us.”
Camp Pendleton officials said this morning that with the exception of Bentzlin, none of the local Marines killed were immediately known to have dependents in the area.