Young pilots looked up to Capt. Kevin Roche. Sgt. Jeffrey Sempler enjoyed teaching and wanted to be an English teacher after the Marine Corps.
The two were among 12 Marines who died when two helicopters crashed during a nighttime training mission off Hawaii last week. Their fellow Marines shared vignettes about all 12 during a memorial service held in their honor on Friday.
“He was one of the best of us,” Capt. Chris Wallace said of Roche, “constantly studying and wanting to make himself better as a pilot and as a Marine officer.”
He said the St. Louis, Missouri, native loved soccer, bike riding and the movie “Top Gun.” The 30-year-old was among the most dedicated pilots he had ever worked with, Wallace said.
Others remembered how Sgt. Jeffrey Sempler loved living in Hawaii and while flying over the islands would point out places they should go see. And how Capt. Brian Kennedy would make helicopter noises over the chopper radio and Sgt. Dillon Semolina deployed to Australia and returned with an Australian wife.
The ceremony came after the Coast Guard announced earlier in January they were halting their search without having found any of those on board. The Marines were later pronounced dead.
Enlarged pictures of the men and the crosses lined the tarmac in front of two helicopters. Servicemen placed flight vests, rifles, flight helmets, combat boots and leis on 12 individual crosses.
A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” and a Marine band played taps.
The commanding officer of the squadron, Lt. Col. Eric D. Purcell, thanked the Coast Guard and others involved in the search, noting many of the rescuers were at the service.
“The sadness that this loss brings to their families and to this squadron is immeasurable,” Purcell said. “They were in the prime of their life, full of joy and hope — only to be taken from us in an instant.”
President Barack Obama said in a statement Friday that the country is grateful for the service and sacrifice of the 12 Marines.
“The willingness of our troops to complete dangerous training to prepare for any mission our nation asks of them will not be forgotten,” his statement said.
The crews belonged to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The search for them began Jan. 14 when a witness on a beach reported seeing the helicopters flying and then a fireball.
The Marines were alerted when the CH-53E helicopters each carrying six crew members failed to return to their base. Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris 2 1/2 miles off of Oahu.
The search ended after the around-the-clock, multiagency effort failed to locate any sign of the service members.
2016 Associated Press.