LOS ANGELES (AP) – Four Marines killed when their helicopter crashed on a training mission in the Southern California desert were identified Thursday as men in their 20s and 30s from the South and Midwest, including one who served in Iraq and another who recently became a father.
Miramar air station in San Diego said those killed included 28-year-old Capt. Samuel Schultz of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, and 27-year-old 1st Lt. Samuel Phillips of Pinehurst, North Carolina.
Both were pilots, with Schultz joining the Marines in 2012 and Phillips in 2013.
Also killed was 33-year-old Gunnery Sgt. Richard Holley of Dayton, Ohio. The helicopter crew chief was the longest-serving Marine among those killed, joining in 2003, and had been deployed to Iraq twice, the air base said.
The youngest Marine killed was 24-year-old Lance Cpl. Taylor Conrad of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, another helicopter crew chief who became a father in October and was remembered by friends and family as just as caring as he was tough.
The Marines were with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing’s 465th squadron out of Miramar air station. They were practicing desert landings when their CH-53E Super Stallion crashed Tuesday in a remote area just outside El Centro, near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Col. Craig Leflore, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 16, said in a statement that “the hardest part of being a Marine is the tragic loss of life of a fellow brother-in-arms.”
“These ‘Warhorse’ Marines brought joy and laughter to so many around them,” he said. “They each served honorably, wore the uniform proudly and were a perfect example of what makes our Marine Corps great — its people. They will forever be in our hearts and minds.”
Tributes to the Marines were pouring in on social media, including from the mayor of Conrad’s hometown of Baton Rouge and his high school football team.
“He was the gold standard,” said Cpl. Brock Portier, a good friend and fellow Marine based in Camp Pendleton.
“He pushed everybody and he cared about everybody,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the Marine I am now if it wasn’t for him.”
Pam Scoggin, Conrad’s great-aunt, said the young man had been going to school at Louisiana State University when he decided to join the Marines.
“He thought they were the toughest of all the military and that’s what he wanted to be,” the 68-year-old said from her home in Texas City, Texas. “He loved serving his country. He just thrived on being a Marine.”
She said Conrad was the baby of the family and that his mother and siblings were devastated by his death.
Sid Edwards, Conrad’s football coach at Central High School in Baton Rouge, remembered the young man for his athleticism but more importantly, his heart.
Not only was Conrad a football player, on the track team and a champion power lifter, but he also volunteered to work with students with special needs, including Edwards’ own two children, who have autism.
“Every one of those kids just absolutely adored him and would look forward to him being there,” Edwards said. “It was like Elvis walking in a room … We’re talking about a very special, unique human being with a gift.”
Conrad had expressed interest in becoming a special education teacher after serving in the Marines, Edwards said.
“His legacy won’t be found on the football field or in power-lifting, or even in the U.S. Marine Corps in my mind,” Edwards said. “His biggest legacy was his heart.”
The helicopter that crashed was with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing out of Miramar air station in San Diego.
The CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest helicopter in the U.S. military and has been in service for more than 30 years. It is used for minesweeping and transport and can carry dozens of troops and tons of cargo.
Two CH-53Es collided off the coast of Oahu in Hawaii two years ago, killing 12 Marines.