JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - Sgt. Don Leo Ford Levens was hooked on airplanes at age 3, begging his mother to take him to airports so he could gaze at the jets. Sgt. Jonathan E. McColley kept his sense of humor despite the grueling demands of his job.
Both men were among 10 U.S. service members killed Friday when a pair of Marine Corps helicopters crashed off the eastern coast of Africa, U.S. military officials confirmed Sunday.
The two CH-53E choppers carrying a dozen crew and troops from a U.S. counterterrorism force went down during a training flight in the Gulf of Aden, near the northern coastal town of Ras Siyyan in Djibouti.
The aircraft and eight Marines were from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, based at Marine Corps Air Station New River. Two Air Force airmen killed, including an Ohio native, were from bases in Washington state and Virginia.
"We were devastated," said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Paul Tremblay, who is based at Camp Lejeune, the huge post that's next to the New River air station. "It hits us very hard as Marines when we lose anyone."
Levens, 25, of Long Beach, Miss., was just 3 when his mother bought him a book about airplanes. From that point on he begged her daily to take him on trips to the airport.
"It's what he always wanted to do as a young child," Margaret Levens said. "It was his passion. He would just sit there and beam every time a chopper passed over the house."
Two crew members were rescued and were taken to Germany for treatment. One was Marine pilot Susan Craig, 28, who called her parents, Pat and Lewis Sackett, of Fall Creek, Wis.
"She's bruised and swollen, and her arms and legs got hurt, but no broken bones," Pat Sackett said.
In a recent e-mail to his family, McColley, of Gettysburg, Pa., displayed his sense of humor, attaching a photo labeled "sexy guy." The picture, however, was all business. It showed the 23-year-old McColley, gun in hand, in a sandy, desolate area with a few trees in the background.
McColley's father said his son's enthusiasm for the military never wavered. In fact, he and his son, spoke by telephone on Tuesday, and John McColley said his son already had decided to re-up.
"He was the proudest Marine I ever met," the elder McColley said.
In addition to Levens and McColley, the Pentagon said the Marines killed in the crash were: 1st Lt. Brandon R. Dronet, 33, of Erath, La.; Sgt. James F. Fordyce, 22, of Newtown Square, Pa.; Lance Cpl. Samuel W. Large, Jr., 21, of Villa Rica, Ga.; Cpl. Matthieu Marcellus, 31, of Gainesville, Fla.; Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Sovie, 20, of Ogdensburg, N.Y.; and Capt. Bryan D. Willard, 33, of Hummelstown, Pa.
Also killed in the crash were Senior Airman Alecia S. Good, 23, of Broadview Heights, Ohio, who was based at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.; and Staff Sgt. Luis M. Melendez Sanchez, 33, of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, who was based at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
Good, a tactical radio operator/maintainer, signed up for a six-year stint in the Air Force after graduating from Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School in 2001. Her parents now live in California, where her funeral will be held, said grandmother Gatha Good of Brook Park.
"She was very outgoing," her grandmother told
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.
"She loved snowboarding and would go whenever she could."
The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, based in Djibouti, is responsible for fighting terrorism in nine countries in the region: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia in Africa and Yemen on the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.
"Our deepest sympathy and heartfelt prayers go out to the family members, friends, loved ones and co-workers of our fallen brothers- and sisters-in-arms," said Maj. Gen. Timothy Ghormley, commanding general of the counterterrorism force. "We mourn their loss and honor their memory."
The remains of the eight Marines and two airmen were sent back to the United States on Sunday, task force spokeswoman Maj. Susan Romano told The Associated Press by telephone from Djibouti.
Military officials were investigating why the aircraft went down in shallow water. They said there was no indication of hostile fire, and visibility was good with light wind.