MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- With a slow sunset a sorrowful backdrop, the families and friends of Marines killed during their last deployment gathered June 22 for a memorial service filled with prayer and tribute.
Third Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment deployed to Iraq early September 2005 and returned late March after spending seven months in the Al Anbar province. But the battalion did not return home complete. Twelve Marines died during the battalion’s third deployment to Iraq.
Remembered during the ceremony were:
Lance Cpl. Andrew D. Bedard, 19, of Missoula, Mont.
Cpl. Joseph P. Bier, 22, of Centralia, Wash.
Cpl. Matthew D. Conley, 21, of Killen, Ala.
Lance Cpl. Sergio H. Escobar, 18, of Pasadena, Calif.
Lance Cpl. Kristen K. Figueroa, 20, of Honolulu, Hawaii
2nd. Lt. Almar L. Fitzgerald, 23, of Lexington, S.C
Lance Cpl. Jonathon R. Spears, 21, of Molino, Fla.
Lance Cpl. Shane C. Swanberg, 24, of Kirkland, Wash.
Lance Cpl. Samuel Tapia, 20, of San Benito, Texas
Lance Cpl. John J. Thornton, 22, of Phoenix, Ariz.
Lance Cpl. Adam J. Van Alstine, 21, of Superior, Wis.
Cpl. Adam O. Zanutto, 26, of Caliente, Calif.
Lt. Col. Roger B. Turner, commanding officer, 3/7, said in order to truly memorialize the fallen men, the battalion’s accomplishments must be well known. Prior to their deployment Turner and his men decided they were going to perform there best. The Marines and Sailors preformed their duties tactfully and tactically and did so in a couple of different ways.
Aside from the large number of terrorists which plagued Ramadi and the hard violence 3/7 encountered, the battalion treated the citizens with dignity and respect and demanded respect when it was called for.
“And what that did during the November time frame was that it separated the terrorists from the locals,” said Turner. “Then the locals came to us and said that they wanted to vote in the December elections. We would make that happen. We watched in awe in December when 50,000 people voted in Ramadi.”
Another significant factor that contributed to the battalion’s legacy was their assistance with the Iraqi Army.
“If someone would’ve told me that an Iraqi Army battalion would own battle spaces in Ramadi I would’ve laughed aloud,” said Turner. “Once we got over there we saw that there was some progress that was made, but they were still pretty rough. Through blood, sweat and tears and because of these Marines, we accomplished enough to transfer battle spaces with the Iraqi Army.”
Turner added, “Every one of them joined the Corps after 11 September 2001. After they joined, half of them realized this was going to be a long war on terrorism. It was going to be a tough fight.”
The battalion, glad to have known the fallen men, even if it was for a little while, feel they are better men for walking in their footsteps. Their fighting will always be remembered.
“Ladies and gentlemen, these men are true heroes, and it was an honor to serve with them,” concluded Turner. “Rest in peace warriors. Semper Fidelis.”