MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Four Marines who were killed in a helicopter crash while conducting combat operations in Iraq were remembered during a memorial service at the Mainside Chapel March 19. Hundreds of family members and friends came to celebrate the lives of Capt. Jennifer J. Harris, 1st Lt. Jared M. Ladaker, Sgt. Travis D. Pfister and Sgt. James R. Tijerina.
“This is exactly what the Marines would have wanted, their families being out here for them,” said Lt. Col. Sean C. Killeen, 41, commanding officer of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, known as “The Purple Foxes.”
All of the Marines served with The Purple Foxes, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force. Both the families and Marines thought the memorial was an appropriate way to honor the fallen.
“The service was amazing,” said Joseph Landaker, father of Landaker. “I’m very pleased how professional this organization is,” he said.
Family members of the fallen said they felt honored by the service.
“I thought the service was beautiful,” said Staff Sgt. Jessica M. Pfister, wife of the late Sgt. Pfister. “He would’ve been proud of all the work his Marines put in.”
After the memorial service, family members of the deceased Marines took time to remember their loved ones.
Pfister remembered the good times when she and her husband met.
“The first time he talked to me was when we were outside and I was cold,” she said. “He gave me his jacket and he said, ‘I’m not giving you this jacket because I like you, I’m giving this jacket to you because I’m tired of watching you freeze.’”
The two married in 1999.
“He was married to me and that CH-46,” Pfister said.
Sgt. Pfister left the Marine Corps for civilian life, but while Staff Sgt. Pfister was on recruiting duty, she recruited him back into service.
“He heard The Purple Foxes were going to Iraq again so he requested to go on the next deployment,” Pfister said. “He didn’t want the younger generation of Marines to go to Iraq without him. He wanted them to come back.”
Pfister was very passionate about everything, Pfister said.
“He was passionate about his work, his friends and me,” she said. “He wouldn’t have wanted to go out any other way. Even if he knew the outcome, he would’ve done it the same way. I’m very proud of him.”
Landaker took time to reminisce about his beloved son.
“He was the light of our life,” he said. “He had hurdles because he was smaller, but he always overcame those hurdles.”
1st Lt. Landaker stood at 5’7” and weighed 180 pounds, but he never let that stop him, Joseph Landaker said, making a football team in his youth despite his size.
“He stood out on the sideline his first game during the first half, but after that he never sat out again,” Landaker said. “He’d rather be on defense to hit somebody than a quarterback.”
He also had very high ethics, Landaker added.
“He was on the commander’s list in flight school, the top five percent,” he said. “He was dedicated to flying.”
He also loved the people he was with, the camaraderie and the patriotism of the Marine Corps, Landaker said.
“I’m so proud of him, so glad he was with such professional, kind Americans. It’s the greatest tragedy we’ve experienced, but we’re staying strong and together,” said Landaker of himself and his wife Laura.
All of the Marines gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but it will never go unnoticed, Killeen said.
“One of the finest crews we had died doing what they loved most — saving Marines’ lives,” Killeen said. “It was a mission that they took seriously, and they never hesitated. They’re missed, but anyone in the squadron would’ve done it.”