2 Marines Who Died in Afghanistan Remembered

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Two Marines killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan were eulogized Wednesday as young men of honor and courage who “made the world a safer place” by volunteering to serve in the war against terrorism.

“Their country called in November, and they volunteered,” Lt. Col. David L. Spasojevich said of Staff Sgt. Walter F. Cohee III and Staff Sgt. Dwight J. Morgan. “They were chosen because they were the best. They were Marines’ Marines.”

Cohee, 26, of Mardela Springs, Md., and Morgan, 24, of Willits in Northern California, were killed in the Jan. 19 crash of a CH-53E Super Stallion in the snowy mountains near Kabul while on a resupply mission. Five members of the crew were injured.

At a memorial service in the chapel at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, several hundred Marines and family members heard Cohee and Morgan praised as dedicated to the Marine Corps and their families. The chapel was decked in red, white and blue flowers and pictures of the two Marines.

“When I think of Dwight, he was a Marine you could look up to,” said Cpl. Jesse D. Phipps. “He was always squared-away.... An empty space in my heart will be hard to fill. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.”

Master Sgt. Thomas G. Villarreal said Cohee’s motto was: “Get it right. Get it right the first time. There is no room for error. We’re Marines.”

The emotional service was the second such farewell held at Miramar this month for Marines killed in the war zone.

Seven Marines from Miramar died when their KC-130 Hercules cargo and refueling plane crashed in Pakistan while attempting a night landing Jan. 9. No cause has been determined.

The two crashes give Miramar the grisly distinction of being the U.S. military base that has suffered the most war zone fatalities in the war on terrorism.

Navy chaplain Lt. George R. Bradshaw said Morgan’s 4-year-old son, Alex, can be proud that “the world is safer because his father had the courage to confront evil in a land faraway.”

Morgan’s widow, Teresa, is expecting the couple’s second child.

Cohee and his fiancee, Vanessa Gerritsen, a graduate student at UC San Diego, planned to be married. Using military e-mail, he had asked her sister and parents for their blessing for the marriage.

“When I found out [Cohee] had died, I felt I died too,” a tearful Gerritsen told reporters after the memorial. “I have no idea what my future holds or how I’m going to go on without him. He was the love of my life and always will be.”

Cohee and Morgan were part of heavy helicopter Squadron 361, known as the Flying Tigers. Both had completed a deployment in the Middle East when the U.S. sent forces to Afghanistan to rout the Taliban government and Al Qaeda terrorist network.

“In disbelief, anger, grief and sorrow, we grasp for memories,” said Spasojevich, the squadron’s commanding officer. “They will be in our hearts forever.”