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Cpl. Matthew J. Armour, a embarkation clerk with Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, takes down a flight helmet on display for a memorial service at the Marine Memorial Chapel, here Nov. 16. The memorial service honored four Marines from MAG-39 who died in a helicopter collision Oct. 26 in Afghanistan.

Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

'Vipers,' 'Scarface' honor fallen brethren

16 Nov 2009 | Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

A wreath bearing gold letters read “Time will not diminish the glory of their deeds,” laid next to the portraits of four Leathernecks, as Marines, sailors, family members and friends paid respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

On Nov. 16, more than 350 people filled the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Marine Memorial Chapel, during a memorial service for Captains David S. Mitchell, Eric A. Jones, Kyle R. VanDeGiesen and Cpl. Gregory M. Fleury.

The Marines were killed in a mid-air collision while flying an escort mission in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. Mitchell, from Marine Light Attack Helicopter 367, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Air Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force. and VanDeGiesen, from HMLA 169, were both AH-1W “Super Cobra” pilots. Jones was a UH-1N “Huey” pilot with HMLA-169 and Fleury was a crew chief with the same squadron, also known as the Vipers.

Marines set four rifles with fixed bayonets into a stand at the front entrance of the chapel. Flight helmets rested on the butt stock of each rifle, and a set of dog tags hung from each pistol grip. A pair of aviator boots lay at the base of each rifle.

MAG-39 chaplains, Navy Lt. Benjamin J. Howard and Navy Commander Joel D. Newman, led the service with an invocation, singing of hymns and a benediction. Marines who knew the pilots and crew chief best spoke of their fondest memories and how each made an impact on their lives.

“Fleury was real friendly and the most innocent person I’ve ever met,” said Cpl. Taylor J. Gunderson, a crew chief with HMLA-169 and friend of Fleury. “When we were deployed, he made things go by with his subtle amount of humor and made everyone laugh. I’ll never forget him and one day I’ll tell my children about him.”

Sergeant Major Mark Byrd, HMLA-169’s squadron sergeant major, announced each of their names three times for the final roll call followed by “Taps.” A flyover with AH-1W Super Cobras and UH-1N Huey helicopters concluded the solemn ceremony.

“It’s important for us to stick together, helping one another and just trying to remain positive,” said Byrd. “Even in a tough situation like this, we’ve done a lot of good things over there and it’s hard not to overshadow this. Just stay focused on your job and do the best you can each and every day. That’s been our motto over there, a day at a time.”

Just as the wreath said, “Time will not diminish the glory of their deeds,” the squadrons will continue to defend the nation and the Marines’ sacrifices will never be forgotten by their brethren.


3rd Marine Aircraft Wing