Brothers (& Sisters) Killed in Action in USMC Helicopters or while assigned to USMC Helicopter or Tiltrotor Squadrons

20060217 HMH-464 HMH-464 Operation ENDURING FREEDOM

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Incident Date 20060217 HMH-464 CH-53E - BuNo 161998 / EN-10 - - HMH-464 CH-53E - BuNo 162495 - - MidAir along coast near Djibouti, Africa

Willard, Bryan Douglas Capt. Pilot HMH-464 MAG-29/2MAW/IIMEF/MCASNewRiver 2006-02-17
Sovie, Nicholas J L/Cpl Crew HMH-464 MAG-29/2MAW/IIMEF/MCASNewRiver 2006-02-17
McColley, Jonathan Eric Sgt. Crew HMH-464 MAG-29/2MAW/IIMEF/MCASNewRiver 2006-02-17
Marcellus, Matthieu Cpl. Crew HMH-464 MAG-29/2MAW/IIMEF/MCASNewRiver 2006-02-17
Levens, Donnie Leo F Sgt. Crew HMH-464 MAG-29/2MAW/IIMEF/MCASNewRiver 2006-02-17
Large Jr., Samuel Wayne L/Cpl Crew HMH-464 MAG-29/2MAW/IIMEF/MCASNewRiver 2006-02-17
Fordyce, James F Sgt Crew HMH-464 MAG-29/2MAW/IIMEF/MCASNewRiver 2006-02-17
Dronet, Brandon R 1stLT Co-Pilot HMH-464 MAG-29/2MAW/IIMEF/MCASNewRiver 2006-02-17
Melendez-Sanchez, Luis Manuel SSgt (USAF) Crew (Mission Specialist) HMH-464 1stCommSq/LangleyAFB/Va 2006-02-17
Good, Alecia Sabrina SrA (USAF) Crew (Mission Specialist) HMH-464 92nd CommSq/FairchildAFB 2006-02-17


News Report - 18 Feb 2006

Friday, February 17, 2006 · Last updated 6:20 p.m. PT

Two U.S. Marines choppers crash off Africa


WASHINGTON -- Two Marine Corps transport helicopters carrying a dozen troops crashed Friday off the coast of Djibouti, and two were rescued in the initial search, the Pentagon said.

The status of the other 10 aboard the CH-53E choppers was not immediately known, officials said.

A search-and-rescue mission by troops from the United States, Djibouti and France was under way, according to a statement issued by Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, a U.S.-led military force headquartered at Camp Lemonier, a French military base in Djibouti.

The helicopters were on a nighttime training mission at the time of the crash, whose cause had not been determined Friday night.

At the Pentagon, a spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, said there was no indication of hostile fire.

Members of the Djiboutian military notified U.S. officials at about 5:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. EST) that the helicopters had crashed in the Gulf of Aden not far from the Djiboutian coastal town of Ras Siyyan.

Djiboutian military members who were near the impact site were able to rescue two injured crew members, according to the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa statement. The two were transported to Camp Lemonier and were listed in stable condition.

Djibouti is situated between Somalia and Ethiopia.

The CH-53E Super Stallion, valued at million per aircraft, has been in service with the Marine Corps since 1981. Its main role is to transport heavy equipment and supplies during the ship-to-shore movement of an amphibious assault and during subsequent operations ashore. It is made by Sikorsky Aircraft and powered by three turboshaft engines.

Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Researcher, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101208

USMC Information

CAMP LEMONIER, DJIBOUTI, AFRICA – The Department of Defense confirmed the deaths
of 10 CH-53E crewmembers as a result of the crash that occurred off the coast of northern Djibouti
Next-of-kin notifications have been made to all family members of the deceased; however,
names are being withheld in deference to family members’ privacy.
Of the 10 deceased crewmembers, eight were United States Marines and two were Air Force
“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,
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa commanding general. “We mourn their loss and honor
their memory.”

Source: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Feb. 19, 2006 Release #06-02-05
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Researcher, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101208

DOD Information

The Department of Defense announced on 19 Feb 2006 the death of eight Marines who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. All eight died Feb. 17, when two CH-53 helicopters crashed into the Gulf of Aden in the vicinity of Ras Siyyan, northern Djibouti, while flying a training mission in the Godoria Range area. The Marines and two airmen were deployed to Djibouti as part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. The Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, Marine Air Group 29, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force, New River, N.C

Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Historian, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101212

DOD Information

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.

• Sgt. Donnie Leo F. Levens, 25, of Long Beach, Miss.

• Cpl. Matthieu Marcellus, 31, of Gainesville, Fla.

• Sgt. Jonathan E. McColley, 23, of Gettysburg, Pa.

• Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Sovie, 20, of Ogdensburg, N.Y.

• Capt. Bryan D. Willard, 33, of Hummelstown, Pa.

Also killed in the crash were Senior Airman Alecia S. Good, 23, of Broadview Heights, Ohio, of the 92nd Communications Squadron at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.; and Staff Sgt. Luis M. Melendez Sanchez, 33, of Bayamon, Puerto Rico, of the 1st Communications Squadron, Langley Air Force Base, Va.

"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."

Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Researcher, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101208

USMC Information

Djibouti is the headquarters for the U.S.-led anti terrorism operation in the Horn of Africa, which mainly focuses on covert missions in Somalia as well as patrolling the waterways in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Terrorists frequently transport guns, missiles and explosives from Yemen to Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya and Tanzania.

Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Researcher, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101208

Report derived from Official USMC Files

Report: Officers could have prevented crash
For The Evening Sun
Evening Sun
Article Launched:11/28/2006 09:57:08 AM EST

Two Marines delivered the 4-inch-thick report, and what it contained hit John E. McColley in the gut:

The helicopter accident that killed his 23-year-old son and nine other U.S. service people Feb. 17 resulted from pilot error and commanders' inadequate supervision, military investigators concluded.

"I personally would have rather had a $10 part fail rather than the command structure," McColley said.

McColley's son, Sgt. Jonathan Eric McColley of Gettysburg, was among eight Marines from a Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464 unit who died when two CH-53E heavy-lift helicopters collided mid-air off the coast of Africa.

Two Air Force radio operators also perished when the aircraft plunged into shallow water 30 minutes into a standard training mission.

John McColley struggled for several months to learn how the military punished the officers held responsible for Eric's death.

He's received some answers but believes he might never know them all.

"Why didn't they have a two-star general sitting in here and saying, 'Here's what we're doing to make sure it never happens again'?" John said, sitting in the living room of his white farmhouse on the outskirts of Gettysburg.

The report was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and asked the Marines how they responded to investigators' recommendations for discipline and procedural revisions.

The Marines said this month they've made changes to prevent a similar accident.

They increased supervision of all deployed heavy-lift helicopter units, bulked up the unit in Djibouti with more experienced officers and revised flight and mission planning procedures, among other things.

They relieved of command the head of HMH-464, Lt. Col. Jeffrey P. Martinez, because of a "loss of confidence" in his ability to continue as its leader, said Maj. Shawn D. Haney, a spokeswoman for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing based in Cherry Point, N.C.

But the Marines refused to disclose how they punished three other officers.

Haney said only that the Marines took "appropriate administrative action" against Maj. Bartlett Ludlow, who was in charge of the helicopter unit in Djibouti and not on the flight; and the surviving pilots, Capt. Susan E. Craig and 1st Lt. Heath Ruppert.

Administrative action in the military is akin to a personnel matter. Examples

include a letter of reprimand, forfeiture of pay or rank or the stripping of a pilot's wings.

"We do know we have families that want more answers. But at the same time, we want to protect our Marines' right to privacy," Haney said.

Craig sent the McColleys a letter last week saying her and Ruppert's flight orders were revoked - they'll no longer fly in the military, John said.

But Eric had told his parents he would go to jail if his actions on the job resulted in the deaths of Marines.

John thinks they got off easy.

The McColleys still don't know what happened to Ludlow, and John intends to find out.

But he and Susan may have all the answers they're likely to get in the more than 739 public pages of the investigative report.

The findings

Pilot and Lt. Col. Gregory M. Douquet and a team spent seven weeks investigating and discovered that failings of the squadron leadership and a "cascading chain of events" led to the collision.

When Douquet's report arrived on the desk of Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, then commander of Marine Forces Central Command, Sattler signed off on it with this observation:

"The chain of events . . . could have been broken at any place or time," and the crash could have been avoided, he wrote in May.

Investigators said:

¥ the officer in charge, Ludlow, permitted the lead pilot to fly despite the pilot's involvement in four flying mishaps in recent months;

¥ Ludlow overburdened the same pilot with responsibilities at the base because the unit was short on pilots;

¥ Ludlow was responsible for a "stifling command environment" in the unit, discouraging co-pilots from questioning helicopter commanders;

¥ Ludlow and two other officers OK'd the Feb. 17 flight despite an ad hoc flight plan created after the original mission was canceled;

¥ the helicopters didn't communicate with one another during the critical last 15 minutes before the collision.

During an impromptu detour on the training flight, the second helicopter was flying too close to the lead helicopter, which slowed and turned unexpectedly and sharply into the second helicopter's path.

Craig, pilot of the second helicopter, didn't immediately notice because she had glanced down at her controls.

They collided, and both helicopters hit the water.

Nine crew members, including McColley, died instantly or within seconds, according to the military medical examiner. The 10th drowned.

The water was so shallow - 30 feet deep - that a blade from McColley's sunken helicopter protruded from the water's surface.

Craig and her co-pilot, Ruppert, survived. Both declined to be interviewed for this story.

But the survivors' description of what occurred in the hours before the collision, detailed in transcripts of their interviews with investigators, helped recreate the day, along with flight logs and other documents Douquet included in the report.

The flight

Eric called home Feb. 14.

He was in month four of a seven-month, volunteer deployment to Djibouti, where he maintained flight equipment for the helicopter unit.

The mission of the Djibouti task force is to disrupt terrorists in the region.

"He said, 'I'll probably be home early,'" his father recalled.

"He said, 'The phone card's going to die.' And then it did.'"

Three days later, Eric was scheduled as part of a training mission.

The helicopter crews learned their main exercise that Friday had been canceled as the flight leader, Capt. Bryan D. Willard, was climbing into his pilot seat.

They still had other training to do, so beside his copter, Condor 10, Willard briefly discussed what the new route and exercises would be with Craig, the pilot of Condor 11:

Together they'd fly the perimeter of Djibouti, a sparsely populated seaside country roughly the size of Massachusetts, then do exercises at a set of landing zones west of the capital city.

They'd be home in two hours.

"This was, a fairly routine, simple - it should have been a relaxed kind of flight," Craig later told investigators.

The crews could have returned to the ready room to re-brief the new mission, but Willard chose not to.

Shortly after takeoff, Willard radioed Craig with a change of plans.

An upcoming mission would take them to the northern coast near a dirt landing strip called Faga: Did she want to check it out?

Craig said sure.

"We'd all been up there. It wasn't anything really out of the ordinary," she told investigators.

Winds blew lightly, and the visibility was clear.

Eric - in charge of flight equipment - sat at the left crew window behind Craig. He'd earned his flight wings the previous month.

Craig stayed behind Condor 10 and on its right as the helicopters flew over the Faga strip, preparing to circle back and land, she thought.

They began a shallow left-hand turn over the Gulf of Aden.

Craig glanced at her controls momentarily, and co-pilot Ruppert dropped his gaze at about the same time.

Ruppert raised his head to see Condor 10 making a rapid roll to the right - so sharp Ruppert glimpsed the whole circle of Condor 10's rotor ring.

It was slowing down, and Condor 11 was closing fast.

"Oh my goodness," Craig said, looking up.

From behind the pilots, a crewman said, "They're too close."

Craig tried to pull the helicopter away, and for a second, Ruppert thought they'd escaped.

But something hit the back end of the helicopter.

"It felt like they flew right through our aircraft," Ruppert told investigators.

One of Condor 10's main rotor blades struck them, severing the tail rotor.

Both aircraft caught fire, and Condor 11 spun without its tail.

"It was real fast, but it felt like it was in slow motion. And then we hit the water," Ruppert said.

The helicopter sank, and fuel floated to the surface.

Craig and Ruppert swam to shore.

They were cut off from any contact with the tower in Djibouti city. Some locals came along and waited with them until Marines found them four hours later.

Loss of a son

At 6 p.m. near Gettysburg, four hours after rescuers plucked Craig and Ruppert from a craggy beach, John and Susan McColley had the television tuned to FoxNews.

A report said 10 aircrew were missing after two Marine helicopters went down off the Djiboutian coast.

That was it.

John knew there were four Marine helicopters in Djibouti, which narrowed the number of Marines potentially involved to fewer than 100.

Frantic, he e-mailed Eric, but the messages bounced back marked "delivery failure." John assumed it was because of the crash.

Then, they waited.

"He kept saying, 'No news is good news,'" Susan said.

She laid down upstairs, trying to calm her nerves. John checked his inbox every 20 minutes.

At 11:30 p.m., a car door slammed in the driveway.

"And I knew," Susan said.

Eric, a laid-back, free-spirited redhead, had stood 6 feet 4 inches tall. He loved Jimmy Buffett and the Grateful Dead, scuba diving and driving his motorcycle.

He joined the service in 2000 after graduating from Gettysburg Area High School.

Eric wanted to see the world and meet people. But he always came home to visit his parents on leave and call on the mechanical bull at the local watering hole.

Nineteen red-tipped pins on a laminated map in his parents' kitchen tracked Eric's travels: Places such as California, Japan, Iraq and Djibouti.

He would have joined the military police upon his return to the states in April.

On Oct. 17, the McColleys marked the one-year anniversary of the last time they saw Eric alive.

They had visited him in Jacksonville, N.C., before his departure to Africa.

Now they visit his grave in Quantico, Va., once every two to three weeks.

Investigators could draw no conclusions as to why Condor 10 rolled unexpectedly to the right. The helicopters weren't fitted with cockpit voice recorders.

Douquet speculated that whoever was flying thought Condor 11 was on his left.

No one can be sure.

But as the pilot in command, Willard should have ensured a complete flight plan of such detail that every pilot and crew member on the training mission had a complete understanding of what was supposed to happen that day.

Investigators said he didn't.

Willard, a native of Enola, Cumberland County, also should not have added the unplanned reconnaissance flight to Faga after takeoff, the military said.

The military said Craig and Ruppert didn't fly in formation as they were trained to and flew too close to Condor 10.

Craig should have flown both behind and several degrees above the lead copter, staying at least 500 feet away.

When she saw how close she was to Condor 10, Craig instinctively turned right to get away.

But Craig should have leveled the craft and increased her speed, according to established procedure.

Investigators recommended Craig lose her wings.

She now has a non-flying job with the Marines in Quantico, according to a spokeswoman at the base.

Investigators recommended Ruppert lose his wings.

Ruppert should've spoken up at Willard's change of plans and should have better assisted Craig when they encountered the situation at Faga, Douquet said.

The military criticized supervisory errors by Ludlow and Martinez, the squadron leader in Jacksonville, N.C.:

Marc Charisse 11/27/06 ¥ Ludlow "habitually berated rather than mentored Captain Willard and the (co-pilots) as opposed to constructively contributing to their professional development."

¥ Martinez should have ensured that Ludlow had a system for evaluating morale. Ludlow did not.

Shannon Willard, Bryan Willard's widow, said her husband had often complained in e-mails about the work environment Ludlow created in Djibouti.

Compared with his two deployments to Iraq, Bryan told her, conditions in Djibouti were much better.

"They weren't getting shot at," Willard said by phone from Atlanta, where she lives.

"Still, it was his most unhappy deployment, and it was very much due to the command over there."

Shannon Willard, the McColleys and family members of others who died said they wanted to see Ludlow serve time in a military brig.

But the case didn't warrant any criminal charges because no one intended for the accident to occur, Haney said.

Peg Fordyce, the mother of Sgt. James F. Fordyce, who died in the crash, said she and her husband took their questions and grievances all the way to the commandant of the Marine Corps in September.

Even he wouldn't provide all the answers they sought, she said.

"It's just so frustrating because you get up against the stone wall," said Fordyce, who lives in Newtown Square, Delaware County.

Moving on

The Marines pride themselves on the support and attention they provide their Marine families.

They were helpful in the wake of the accident overall, John McColley said, but failed when it came to two things: Making sure the families didn't learn of the accident on the news and following up on the investigative report.

Even getting some answers now about policy changes by the military had little effect on him.

"It's past that point," McColley said. "We've gotten over that hurdle of the report. I could have five officers walk in here tomorrow, but what good's it going to do?"

He and Susan are closing down their business, American Resin Casting, on Route 30 northwest of Gettysburg.

A Coldwell Banker sign by the road advertises for sale their green-trimmed home and white barn on 5.6 acres in Straban Township.

As they prepare for a move to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Eric's favorite holiday is fast approaching. New Year's Day done in the McColley tradition calls for barbecued pulled pork, hard-shell crabs and a big party.

Last Jan. 1, the McColleys thought it was going to be a special year - not for any particular reason. Just a feeling.

"We just kept on saying 2006 would be a good year," Susan said, shrugging.

She sat on her couch next to a photo album and a mockup of Eric's flight helmet from a military memorial service.

"It turned out to be the worst year of our lives."

From a nearby room, Sonny, the household parrot, won't let the grieving family forget:

"Eric! . . . Eric!" he cries.

The name is unmistakable, and Sonny repeats it constantly.


Susan blinked through her tears.

"Life ended February 17. It will never be the same. Now we need to pick it up again and start in a new place. Eric's just everywhere."


Source: The Evening Sun - Article Launched:11/28/2006 - By MELISSA NANN BURKE
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Researcher, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101208

Newspaper Article

1stLt Brandon R Dronet, USMC

Erath Marine killed in copter crash
By Jan Risher
Louisiana Gannett News
LAFAYETTE -- The global war on terror just hit home again.
On Monday morning, news of 1st Lt. Brandon R. Dronet's death spread quickly through rural Vermilion Parish, where just about everybody had some connection to Dronet -- a country boy who made good.

"He was just your typical good country boy who was trying to do the right thing and serve his country," said Warren Perrin, family friend and lawyer. "His family was so proud of him. His grandmother had a large picture of him over the fireplace and was praying for his safe return."

Perrin said Dronet's grandmother, Lily Dronet, who lost her home in Hurricane Rita, was so proud of her grandson.

Dronet was one of eight Marines and two airmen who died Feb. 17 when two CH-53 helicopters crashed into the Gulf of Aden near northern Djibouti. The Marines and airmen were deployed to Djibouti as part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Brandon Dronet's loss was real at the Lafayette Marine Recruiting Station.

"It's a terrible loss for his family and Erath. Personally, I would trade places with him in a heartbeat so that man could come home and be with his loved ones," Sgt. Jereme Penns said. "From the Marines here in Lafayette, we send our condolences."

Dronet, 33, graduated from Henry High. He married his high school sweetheart, Summer Landry. They had four children. Dronet was stationed at a Marine base in North Carolina.

Curney Dronet, a cousin of Dronet, said final funeral arrangements had not been made as of late Monday. Another family spokesman at the home of Catherine Montet -- Brandon Dronet's mother -- said the burial will take place in Bancker, a rural Vermilion Parish community whose church was destroyed by a hurricane, but the cemetery is still in use.

Curney Dronet said Brandon's father, Gene Dronet, was in North Carolina with Brandon's wife and her family to bring her and the children back home to Louisiana.

Curney Dronet said the family expects Brandon Dronet's body to return home some time before the end of the week.

"He was a good boy. He was very smart," Curney Dronet said.

Kirk Soileau, an agriculture teacher at Erath High, taught Brandon Dronet for four years at Henry High School.

"Brandon loved being in the Marines," Soileau said. "He was proud to be a Marine. I was his ag teacher for four years. We consolidated schools right around the time he graduated. He grew up in Henry. I saw him the last time he was back. I ran into him and his wife. We visited for a while. He was a good kid. I really enjoyed him. I think he enjoyed life. He was a fun-loving kid."

Denise Nugent, a counselor at North Vermilion High School, also taught Brandon Dronet at Henry High.

"We just heard about it this morning. I taught his wife, too," Nugent said. "It's unbelievable. As I recall, he was a very polite kid and a good student. He wasn't trouble. He was a sweet little fellow."

At his officer's commissioning ceremony, Brandon Dronet was presented a key to the city of Abbeville.

"The loss of life is sad, especially when it's somebody we know and somebody from Vermilion Parish," said Mark Piazza, mayor of Abbeville. "I would just hope the citizens of Vermilion Parish, especially the children, realize the great sacrifice he made for our country. My prayers and condolences go out to the family."

Source:, February 21, 2006
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101212

Newspaper Article

Cpl. Nicholas Sovie

Chopper Crash Claims Life of Marine
Nicholas Sovie was from Ogdensburg


Ogdensburg, NY - The crash of two U.S. Marine Corps helicopters off the coast of the eastern African nation of Dijbouti has claimed the life of an Ogdensburg man. Nicholas Sovie, 20, was part of a twelve man crew attached to two CH-53 E helicopters. The group was conducting a two-hour training mission in the Godoria Range.
Nicholas' cousin David Demers was notified of the crash Saturday morning. He told 7 News two Marines appeared at his cousin Mary's home in Ogdensburg around ten o'clock Friday night.

Demers said the marines told her that Nicholas had been involved in the crash.

"He wanted to be a marine and a good marine," said Demers.

The two Marines returned late Saturday afternoon.

"They said Nic didn't make it...he died", said Demers.

Nicholas Sovie was a 2003 graduate of Ogdensburg Free Academy.

His relatives said he was active in his church.

"I love him, that's the way we always ended...on a big hug and I love you. That's the way our family is. We don't separate from each other without a hug, a kiss and love," Demers said.

Sovie's body is expected to return to the U.S. sometime next week.

Source: reprinted from, February 25, 2006
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101212

Newspaper Article

Sgt. Jonathan McColley

Marine laid to rest


For The Evening Sun

Distraught friends Sunday remembered Sgt. Jonathan Eric McColley as a Marine, an Eagle Scout and a fierce friend.

The 23-year-old was among 10 service members killed Feb. 17 when a pair of Marine Corps helicopters crashed off the coast of Africa.

He will be buried Friday at the Quantico National Cemetery in Virginia.

During Sunday's memorial service for the Gettysburg native, McColley's family, mentors and buddies alike described him as a funny, big-hearted redhead who delighted in a good water-balloon fight and Jimmy Buffet melodies.

Lt. Col. Jeffery P. Martinez, the commanding officer of McColley's squadron, said, "The greatest warriors often have the biggest hearts and the greatest compassion."

Approximately 150 people went to remember Eric McColley in the sunny sanctuary of Gettysburg Presbyterian Church, just down the road from the Soldier's National Museum in Gettysburg.

An avid swimmer and scuba diver, McColley taught many children in Adams County how to swim, the Rev. Louis Nyiri said.

As a child, McColley once picketed his elementary school playground - placard and all - to change playground rules. He wanted to be a stand-up comedian but instead joined the Marines in 1999.

After he got caught with a pair of Groucho Marx glasses during boot camp, McColley was often ordered to don them on command, said his father, John E. McColley.

Although embarrassed, his son knew the laughs prompted by the mustachioed getup helped fellow recruits get through some tough training days.

Eric McColley was "twice the Marine I was" and a son who was "never afraid to hug and kiss his mother in public," John McColley said.

One young friend said McColley had, in a way, lived a long, happy life.

His military assignments took him to Iraq, Japan, Guam, North Carolina and California.

"He made us proud, just to know him," the friend said.

McColley had recently completed his first five years in the service, earned his flight wings and had signed up for another five years.

On Feb. 17, he and 11 other members of a U.S. counterterrorism force were aboard two CH-53E helicopters that crashed during a training flight in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Djibouti.

Two crew members survived. Two other Pennsylvanians were among the dead - Sgt. James F. Fordyce, 22, of Newtown Square and Capt. Bryan D. Willard, 33, of Hummelstown.

The choppers were from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, based out of Jacksonville, N.C.

Martinez knew McColley as a quiet professional who was promoted four times in five years, he said.

"I trained this man. I deployed this man," he said. "I flew with this man and trusted him with my life. I loved him like my own sons. God bless you, Marine. Semper fi."

John McColley said some might call Eric a hero.

"But my son would say, 'Dad, I'm just doing my job.'"

Source: reprinted from, February 27, 2006
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101212

Newspaper Article

Capt. Bryan Willard

Pa. Marine's Spirit, Positivity Remembered
Helicopter Crash Killed Captain, Nine Others Off African Coast

By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 4, 2006; B03

Capt. Bryan D. Willard will be remembered for the many lives he touched and for his generous spirit and wisdom that belied his 33 years.

Willard, of Enola, Pa., seven other Marines and two Air Force airmen were killed Feb. 17 when two CH-53 helicopters crashed into the Gulf of Aden in northern Djibouti, Africa, during a training mission in support of operations in Afghanistan.

Yesterday, more than 50 mourners gathered under a cloudless blue sky to honor Willard as he was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

A horse-drawn carriage carried Willard's flag-draped coffin in a procession. Strong winds tossed leaves across the grounds as a Marine band played taps.

Willard -- who is survived by his wife, Shannon; his father, David Willard; his stepmother, Sherry Willard; and his brother, Bradley Willard -- was the 32nd person killed in the Afghanistan conflict to be buried at Arlington, according to cemetery officials.

According to the Department of Defense, the other Marines killed in the accident were Lt. Brandon R. Dronet, 33, of Erath, La.; Sgt. James F. Fordyce, 22, of Newton Square, Pa.; Lance Cpl. Samuel W. Large Jr., 21, of Villa Rica, Ga.; Sgt. Donnie Leo F. Levens, 25, of Long Beach, Miss.; Cpl. Matthieu Marcellus, 31, of Gainesville, Fla.; Sgt. Jonathan E. McColley, 23, of Gettysburg, Pa.; and Lance Cpl. Nicholas J. Sovie, 20, of Ogdensburg, N.Y.

The Air Force members killed were Senior Airman Alecia S. Good, 23, of Broadview Heights, Ohio, and Staff Sgt. Luis M. Melendez Sanchez, 33, of Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

On Thursday, about 150 people filled a Methodist church in New Kingstown, Pa., to remember Willard, who was known for his caring heart and infectious laugh.

"Willy," as he was known to friends, was an avid outdoorsman. He had been a Boy Scout as a child, and as a student at East Pennsboro Area High School in Enola, he was a hunter, wrestler and football player.

"He was a team player, with a tremendous amount of heart and spirit," said Craig Robbins, his assistant football coach.

During a recent visit to the school, Willard gave a pep talk to the football team during halftime. The team was losing.

The encouraging words were typical, recalled coach Jason Estright, a childhood friend. "He always had a smile on his face," Estright said. "He could take any bad situation and make you laugh."

A picture in the high school's display case honors the Marine and his service.

Willard graduated from Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania and completed studies in mortuary science from Northampton Community College. He had been a funeral director with Jesse H. Geigle Funeral Home in Harrisburg, Pa.

Friends said he found his military calling later in life, after speaking with a recruiter on an Armed Forces Day. He was assigned to the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, Marine Air Group 29, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at New River, N.C.

He met his wife while attending flight school in Florida, and they married three years ago.

"Every time I talked to him, he would tell me about all the really interesting people and experiences that he was having," said Todd Bedard, Willard's childhood friend who last spoke with him in September after Willard's second tour in Iraq. "He loved his wife deeply and always talked about how good she was to him."

Several friends who attended yesterday's service said they considered Willard a humble hero, even before his deployment. "I take a lot of what I do in this world from Bryan's example," Bedard said. "So many people loved him because he respected people so much."

Source: reprinted from, March 4, 2006
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101212

Newspaper Article

Cpl. Matthieu Marcellus

Dream of flying took Marine from Toys 'R' Us into Africa

Becoming a Marine changed Cpl. Matthieu Marcellus' life.

Marcellus, one of the 10 U.S. servicemen killed in a helicopter crash on Friday off the Horn of Africa, went from managing a Toys "R" Us in Gainesville to becoming an aviation technician, his brother Jacob Marcellus of Miramar told The Sun Monday. His brother had wanted to become a pilot, but he was too old by the time he joined the Marines three years ago, Jacob Marcellus said.

And although he couldn't indulge his lifelong dream of being a pilot, Marcellus, 31, still loved his job of being a Marine, his brother said.

"Let me tell you something: My brother was so proud of being a Marine," said Jacob Marcellus, who works as a BMW technician in South Florida. "He conquered his fears of heights and his fear of water because he didn't know how to swim. He was gung-ho."

Matthieu Marcellus, who lived in Gainesville from 1997 to 2002, had briefly attended Santa Fe Community College in the fall 1998 and part of spring 1999 with aspirations of attending the University of Florida and being a walk-on and playing football for the Gators, his brother said. Marcellus enlisted in the Marines after his first marriage ended in divorce, his brother added.

None of the corporal's immediate family lives in Gainesville, his brother said.

Jacob Marcellus said his brother's death was "devastating" for the close-knit family.

The son of Haitian immigrants, Matthieu Marcellus moved to Florida from Brooklyn, N.Y., with his parents, two sisters and brother, Jacob Marcellus said.

He added that their father, who came to the United States in 1970, is a pastor at Galilee Baptist Church in Sunrise and that their mother suffers from Parkinson's disease.

Cpl. Marcellus was an aerial observer with the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, which is based at Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, N.C. He was among eight Marines and two U.S. Air Force personnel who were killed when two CH-53 helicopters crashed in the Gulf of Aden off the northern coast of Djibouti while flying a training mission. Two crew members were rescued.

This was at least the second deployment in the War on Terrorism for Marcellus' unit, which is nicknamed the Condors, said Master Sgt. Phil Mehringer, public affairs chief for the New River air station. The squadron was deployed to Djibouti as part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

Marcellus didn't appear to have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, Mehringer said.

During his first deployment to Africa, Marcellus met his current wife, Donna Marie Marcellus, who was also stationed in Djibouti with the U.S. Navy and is now living with her parents in South Carolina, Jacob Marcellus said. The couple had no children, but were planning on starting a family when Marcellus returned from Africa in April, his brother said.

A memorial service for Marcellus is scheduled for noon on Saturday at From the Heart Ministry Church, 301 N. Lakewood Drive in Brandon. Marcellus will be laid to rest in South Carolina, his family said.

SFCC President Jackson Sasser said he was stunned to hear of the former student's death and said that the college would honor Marcellus' memory.

"This is the third student from SFCC to be killed since the Iraq war started," Sasser told The Sun Monday. "What a tragedy."

Source: reprinted from, February 25, 2006
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101212

Newspaper Article

SSgt. Donnie Levens

Long Beach Marine takes final flight home

GULFPORT - Friends and family gathered at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport Friday night to receive the body of Staff Sgt. Donnie Levens, a Marine killed in a helicopter crash last week in North Africa.

Levens, 25, of Long Beach, was based at New River, N.C., with the 2nd Marine Air Wing. He was deployed to Djibouti, Africa, and went down in a helicopter crash that killed nine others.

All those gathered, including his mother, Margaret Levens, said he had been living his dream.

"He enjoyed his choppers and his life was wrapped around those things," she said.

Levens, in a second tour with the Marines, was killed on his mother's birthday.

Matthew Levens said his brother was very considerate of others.

"When they would fly missions, he would make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the other crew members," Matthew Levens said.

Levens joined the Marines out of high school in 1998. His recruiter, Gunnery Sgt. Shane Nixon, said Levens was a good salesman for the Marine Corps.

"He was bright and motivated, and he was all about the Marine Corps. He brought in referrals to the recruitment office," Nixon said.

Besides the Marine Corps, Levens had a passion for his black Pontiac Trans Am and his black German Shepherd, Sierra.

Levens' visitation is set for Friday from 5 until 9 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Long Beach. A burial mass will be Saturday at noon at the same church, with visitation from 10 a.m. until the service begins. Burial follows at Pine Ridge Gardens in Gulfport.

Source: reprinted from, February 25, 2006
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101212

Newspaper Article

Sgt. James Fordyce

Fordyce found his niche when he joined Marines

Ask a thousand people where a Marine should tread cautiously and it’s possible none of them would choose Djibouti, a nation on the coast of eastern African with a population smaller than that of Delaware County.
The Friday deaths of Newtown Square native James F. Fordyce and nine other U.S. servicemen and women provided a tragic example of how the tentacles in the war on terror sometimes stretch beyond the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 22-year-old Fordyce, a helicopter mechanic and sergeant with a North Carolina-based Marine expeditionary force, was among eight Marines and two airmen killed when a pair of CH-53 helicopters crashed in shallow waters in the Gulf of Aden off the Djibouti coast.
The group, which included three Pennsylvanians, was deployed as part of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.

"Whether he was at a checkpoint in Iraq or in Africa, (Jim) always looked forward to a challenge," said Fordyce’s friend and neighbor, Lynsey Hetzner. "As rough as he told me it was, he loved all the new experiences and said he would never trade it for anything."

A 2001 graduate of Marple Newtown High School, Fordyce enlisted in the Marine Corps just prior to the 9/11 attacks. He had served two tours in Iraq before being deployed to Djibouti, a country that borders Somalia to the north and Ethiopia to the east.

"He was one of those people who wasn’t sure what he was going to do after his senior year," said Hetzner. "He didn’t know whether to go to college, take a year or two off, or go into the service."

Once Fordyce determined he wanted to be a Marine, Hetzner said he never looked back.

"I know a lot of people had doubts about their decision (to enlist) after 9/11, but he really wanted to go to the battlefield and serve his country," she said.

U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, who learned of Fordyce’s death Sunday from the Department of Defense, called him "an American hero."

"He was doing critically important work in an area of the world that directly borders the Middle East and has a lot of fundamentalist Islamic activity," Weldon said. "You have the whole northern rim of Africa in that region, including Libya, with Tunisia and Egypt just around the corner."

The CIA identifies Djibouti as a "front-line state in the global war on terrorism and home to the only U.S. military base in sub-Saharan Africa."

"He died as an American hero and he will be honored as an American hero when the time is appropriate," said Weldon, who is working on a resolution in honor of Fordyce for the Congressional Record. A memorial, such as the playground built at Glenwood Elementary School in memory of Michael Horrocks, is also a possibility, the congressman added.

A former Marine Corps pilot, Horrocks was first officer aboard United Flight 175, which was hijacked and crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

"I have had a conversation with our board president about holding some type of event at the high school (to recognize Fordyce,)" said Marple Newtown School District Superintendent Merle Horowitz. "Right now, we want to respect the family’s privacy."

In his downtime, Hetzner said Fordyce liked to tinker with cars and spend time with his friends. "He loved to work with his hands," she said.

Hetzner said her friend was completely transformed by his military experience. "If you knew him before, you would have never thought it was the same person," she said. "When he came home for the first time, he had totally changed. His head was on straight and he knew what he was doing."

The Fordyce family declined comment when contacted Monday afternoon at their Locust Street home.

"There are no words that will take away the pain his family is feeling right now," Weldon said. "This is a young man and patriot that we need to think about and honor. All of us are better off for his service."

Source: (reprinted from, February 21, 2006)
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Historian, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101212

Newspaper Article

LCpl. Samuel Large

Ga. Marine Killed in Helicopter Accident
A Georgia Marine is confirmed to be one of ten service men and women killed when two Marine helicopters collided off the coast of Africa. Lance Corporal Sam Large Junior joined the Marines right out of high school.

His family says he wanted to make a difference.

Samantha Young fights back the tears as she remembers her little brother. She's seen the Marines change Sam Large in the three years he served...he had grown up.

"It had changed him drastically, he was a completely different person, very head strong, very much. " said Young, Large's sister.

His sister says he was extremely intelligent, and Large wanted to be a leader. that's why he joined. He found his home in the Marines. Large was killed during a counter terrorism exercise Saturday.
"His main explanation for everything is make the world right, make it right, everyone appreciate each other." said Young.

Large's son, Tyler was born last May. He was able to come home for his birth. But only spent a week with his son before he returned to his unit.

"He had just joined the Marines so we were not expecting that but that couldn't have been anything but one of the happiest days of his life." said Young.

Young says the family will attempt to go on without him. Because he would want them to hold tight and stay together. Even in the face of tragedy.

"We have a lot of family and a lot of people that do know and they do love him. He's going to be missed." said Young.

Corporal Large's unit was a part of a joint task force used to fight terrorism in a nine country region near the area they were training. His counter terrorism unit is based out of North Carolina.

Family has not finalized the arrangements for the funeral. But Large will be buried in hometown of Villa Rica, Georgia--that's just west of Atlanta.

Source: reprinted from, March 4, 2006
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101212

Family Information

FALL CREEK, Wis. - One of two Marines rescued after a pair of military transport helicopters crashed off the eastern African coast is a pilot from Wisconsin, her family confirmed Saturday.

Susan Craig, 28, called her parents from Kuwait and said she was headed to a hospital in Germany, said her mother, Pat Sackett.

"She's bruised and swollen, and her arms and legs got hurt, but no broken bones," Sackett told the Leader-Telegram of Eau Claire. Sackett later confirmed the information to The Associated Press.

The two CH-53E choppers went down Friday in the Gulf of Aden, near the northern coastal town of Ras Siyyan in Djibouti. The U.S. military said Saturday it has accounted for 10 American troops who went missing after two transport helicopters crashed into the sea but declined to reveal their fate until family members were notified.

Sackett said her daughter wasn't sure what caused the crash.

"They had an inflatable around their neck that they inflated, and they hung onto a piece of the aircraft," the mother said. "It was three hours before they were rescued."

Craig told her mother she was rescued by Djiboutian military personnel.

The crash left her daughter "deeply saddened," Sackett said.

Craig's husband, Steve Craig, is a Marine pilot but stationed in Iraq, Sackett said. He learned of her rescue through e-mails, she said.

Source: Associated Press
Submitted by: Alan H Barbour, Researcher, Historian, USMC Combat Helicopter Association, 20101208

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