Arizonans killed in action over the past year - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Arizonans killed in action over the past year

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Posted: Monday, May 30, 2005 7:48 am | Updated: 9:27 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

This Memorial Day, in tribute to U.S. service members, the Tribune lists Arizonans who have been killed in the war on terrorism in the past year.

Army Staff Sgt. Russell J. Verdugo


Staff Sgt. Russell J. Verdugo was an avid photographer who took professional-quality photos and wanted people to ‘‘see what he’d seen.’’

Verdugo, an explosives disposal specialist in the 767th Ordnance Company at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C, died May 23 in Baghdad while on an assignment to remove a makeshift explosive.

His mother, Susan Stanley of Grand River, Iowa, said Verdugo, 34, took thousands of photographs that "look like National Geographic photos, the poppy fields, the machine guns — photojournalist-type work.’’

Verdugo was born in Scottsdale and grew up in Phoenix and Hawaii.

‘‘He just married his first love Thanksgiving weekend,’’ Stanley said.

The last time his wife, Kari, talked to Verdugo, they were planning a honeymoon trip to Scotland. Verdugo, who enlisted in the military in 1993, was deployed to Iraq in January and was scheduled to return home to Alexandria, Va., at the end of June. He had also served in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004.

MAY 22

Army Sgt. Kenneth J. Schall


A sports enthusiast with a great sense of humor, Sgt. Kenneth J. Schall hoped to join the Phoenix Fire Department or a bomb squad after the military. Schall, of Peoria, died May 22 in a crash south of Baghdad. The 22-year-old was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 70th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan.

He graduated from Centennial High School in Peoria, where he was a top golfer. His mother, Terri Schall, said her son also played baseball and basketball. He had recently taken up snowboarding and loved fishing.

Schall was the nephew of Gilbert Town Councilman Les Presmyk, who said Schall was "a joy to be around . . . He really made people feel comfortable, but he was a leader as well." Schall was studying at Glendale Community College to become a history teacher. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks spurred him to join the Army. Terri Schall said her son returned to Iraq in February and his tour would have ended in July. She last spoke with him on Mother’s Day.

Schall also is survived by his father, John, and two younger siblings. A memorial service is 1 p.m. today at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ, 12861 N. Eighth Ave., Phoenix.


Marine Lance Cpl. Marty G. Mortenson


The last time he was home, Marty G. Mortenson bought his nephews toys to make up for birthdays he’d missed. He volunteered to shovel snow off neighbors’ driveways. He went to a women’s prayer group to thank them for praying to keep him safe. And he did it all in a T-shirt, to feel the winter cold he missed in the desert. Mortenson, 22, of Flagstaff, was killed April 20 by an explosive device in Ramadi. He was based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Mortenson grew up wanting to join the Marines, talking about it with high school friends and saying he was prepared to give his life for his country. He worked as a lifeguard in high school and joined the Marines in May 2002.

He was on his third tour in Iraq, and family members said he was ready to come home.

‘‘During his time in the military, he began to change and the rough, tough stuff became less important,’’ said his mother, Ruth. He planned a hike the Grand Canyon with his mom when he got back, and talked about joining a SWAT team, switching to the National Guard, or going to college. He also is survived by his father, Ken.


Army Pfc. Sam W. Huff


At the age of 16, Sam W. Huff went to her parents with a plan: She would join the Army, become a military policewoman, go to college, get a master’s degree in psychology and become an FBI special agent. ‘‘She came to us and said, ‘I decided what I want to do,’ ’’ said her father, Robert Huff. ‘‘There was no arguing with her.’’ Huff, 18, of Tucson, was killed April 18 when a roadside bomb struck her convoy in Baghdad. She was based at Fort Lewis, Wash.

Huff was engaged to Pvt. Nicholas Neally. Her sister, Pfc. Ashley Lathers, said she had two loves: Dancing and Nick.

‘‘That girl would dance any time she got the chance. I’d catch her dancing in our room, dancing down the hall,’’ Lathers said. She said her sister had a modeling contract and would frequently remind her of that fact while in Iraq, saying ‘‘I could have been the next Gap girl.’’ ‘‘In all honesty she was a model,’’ Lathers said, ‘‘a model soldier.’’ Huff joked about being a military policewoman ‘‘so she could boss guys around,’’ said high school classmate Jeremy Vega. ‘‘She was a born leader.’’


Army Pvt. Joseph L. Knott


Joseph L. Knott wanted to become a sniper, but to his family he was a warm, compassionate man who liked to draw and write poetry. ‘‘He liked to act tough on the outside,’’ said his mother, Pam. ‘‘We used to make fun of him because he’d pose like he’s all tough and inside he’s a great big marshmallow.’’ Knott, 21, of Yuma, was killed April 17 when his convoy was attacked in Baghdad. He was based at Fort Carson, Colo.

Knott grew up playing with GI Joes and loved everything military. He was in the varsity band in high school, and drew and wrote poems — though he rarely shared them.

He enlisted in the Army about a year ago in part to emulate his older brother in the Navy, his mother said. He knew he would probably be sent to Iraq.

‘‘He was nervous, but at the same time he was excited to be fighting for our country,’’ she said. ‘‘He missed home, but he felt he was doing what he needed to be doing.’’


Army Spc. Nicholas E. Wilson


Nicholas E. Wilson was his mother’s ‘‘miracle child,’’ born three months early and rushed to the intensive care unit. ‘‘They said if he was going to survive, he would be a real fighter,’’ said his mother, Debbie Newhouse.

As he grew, it became clear that her son was an adrenaline junkie.

‘‘Ever since (the movie) ‘Twister,’ he’s always wanted to chase tornadoes,’’ his mother said. ‘‘He always wanted to learn the hard way. He always went for the gusto in life.’’ Wilson, 21, of Glendale, was killed March 11 in Ramadi, Iraq, when his Humvee rolled into a water-filled ditch. He was based at Camp Casey, South Korea. Wilson enlisted in the Army in February 2003 after hearing his father’s stories from Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War. ‘‘He said it sounded exciting,’’ Newhouse said. He planned to attend the University of Arizona when he came back.

FEB. 17

Army Sgt. Frank B. Hernandez


Frank B. Hernandez served on the front lines of the war in Iraq in 2003 and was apprehensive about returning —this time leaving behind a new wife and son.

‘‘He really did not want to go back,’’ said his cousin, Mary Lawrence. But, she said, ‘‘serving his country and protecting his country was one of his main goals in life.’’ Hernandez, 21, of Phoenix, was killed Feb. 17 when a bomb exploded near his vehicle in Tal Afar, Iraq, an insurgent stronghold. He was based at Fort Lewis, Wash. Hernandez had married his wife, Cristin, shortly before being redeployed in October. He also is survived by their infant son, Aden. He gave up a chance for college to join the Army, and hoped to become a police officer like his older brother, who also had served in the military.

DEC. 18

Army Sgt. Tina S. Time


In a high school where female leaders were rare, Tina S. Time was class president every year. ‘‘You’d look at her and see a small physique, but she was a tough girl. She never quit,’’ said Vaipuna Kaulave, a teacher who called Time one of the best students he ever had. Time, 22, died Dec. 18 in Iraq in a crash. Her Army Reserve unit was located in Tucson. Born in Australia, Time grew up in Pago Pago in American Samoa. In high school there, Time was an honor student and part of a youth group and choir and taught Sunday school in church. She joined the Army Reserve to serve her country and help pay for college, her mother said. She attended Pima Community College in Tucson and enjoyed fixing cars in her spare time.

‘‘She told me, ‘Mom, don’t be afraid. I wanted to do this for my country and now I’m doing it,’ ’’ said Mary Time, Tina’s mother. ‘‘She was my daughter. Now she’s my angel.’’ She also is survived by her father, Viliamu, and four siblings.

NOV. 27

Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua E. Lucero


Joshua E. Lucero stood just 5-foot-2, so he compensated for his size by lifting weights and lashing into the punching bag his parents got him for his 17th birthday. ‘‘He used to be a real skinny kid,’’ said his father, Michael. ‘‘Kind of nerdy, with glasses and everything. He got tired of everybody making fun of him, so he bought weights and started lifting weights.’’ Lucero, 19, of Tucson, died Nov. 27 in fighting near Fallujah. He was based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. A 2003 high school graduate, he told his father that he wanted to stay in the Marines and maybe become a drill instructor. Beyond that, he thought about becoming a police officer or a firefighter.

‘‘All the jobs he wanted to do involved taking care of other people and a lot of adrenaline,’’ his father said. He also is survived by his mother, Tina; his fiancee, Tasha Lepes; and their 16-month-old son, Joey. ‘‘I just want him to know that his dad was a great guy and he died for his country fighting for us,’’ Lepes said.

OCT. 30

Marine Cpl. Christopher J. Lapka


Christopher J. Lapka was halfway through his sophomore year at Arizona State University — on a full academic scholarship — when he signed up for the Marines.

He enlisted less than a week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and surprised the family with the news on the following Thanksgiving Day, said his mother, Tina.

"I told him, ‘Son, you have such brains, why would you do that?’ " she recalled. "He said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to go fight.’ He wanted to be on the front lines and fight." Lapka, 22 of Peoria, was killed Oct. 30 in Anbar province, Iraq, when a car bomb exploded near his convoy. Tina said it was not a surprise that Christopher would join the Marines.

"Since he was 2 years old until he was about 7 or 8, all he wore was camouflage outfits, so I kind of figured he was going to go someplace in that direction," she said. "Plus, he had two uncles who were in the Marine Corps." Lapka was stationed at Marine Corps Base, Hawaii. He is survived by his mother and his father, Ken.

OCT. 18

Army Spc. Andrew C. Ehrlich


Andrew C. Ehrlich was a military brat, and there was never much doubt about what he would be when he grew up. The family living room is full of Army medals, an American flag flies outside and the family dog’s name is Shrapnel.

‘‘I knew the moment he was born he was going to do it,’’ said his father, Mark. ‘‘He was an infantryman like I was, like his grandfather and great-grandfather.’’ Ehrlich’s mother, Janette, also served. Ehrlich, 21, of Mesa, died Oct. 18 in Muqdadiyah, Iraq, of noncombat-related injuries. The Pentagon said the death was under investigation. Ehrlich graduated from high school in 2002 and enlisted in the Army the same year. He was based in Vilseck, Germany.

His uncle, Karl Ehrlich, described Andrew as a ‘‘happy-go-lucky knucklehead.’’ He loved heavy metal music, videos and hanging out, his father said. ‘‘He took pure pleasure in having his mother getting the Cradle of Filth CD and sending it to Iraq for him,’’ Mark Ehrlich said.

OCT. 10

Army Pvt. Carson J. Ramsey


Two days before his death, Carson J. Ramsey left a phone message for his father. He wanted his dad to check on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle he planned to buy when he got home.

‘‘He liked to hunt and fish,’’ said his father, Cecil. ‘‘He was going to get a Harley when he got back. He liked motorcycles.’’ Ramsey, 22, of Winkelman, died Oct. 10 when a car bomb detonated outside an east Baghdad market. He was based at Fort Hood, Texas. A 2001 high school graduate, Ramsey did well academically and loved the outdoors. Carson’s latest enthusiasm was bowhunting: He had gotten a compound bow and was practicing with it in Iraq. Jose Jimenez, a friend, described two sides of Carson Ramsey: ‘‘He was a sergeant, and I was a private. In ROTC, he was tough. But as a friend, he was really cool,’’ Jimenez said. In addition to his father, Ramsey is survived by his mother, Elaine; a brother, Bobby, 29, and two sisters, Irene, 24, and Sandy, 34.

AUG. 3

Army Pfc. Harry Shondee Jr.


Harry Shondee Jr. used to pick up his family members like dolls, squeezing them in bear hugs that showed his strength and tenderness at the same time. ‘‘He was happier than all of us,’’ said Myron Shondee, 29, one of Shondee’s five older siblings. Shondee, 19, of Ganado, died Aug. 3 when a bomb detonated near his patrol vehicle in Baghdad, Iraq. He was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. Shondee graduated last year from high school, where he was inducted into the National Honor Society.

After his military service, Shondee wanted to become an architectural engineer so he could build a house for his parents. Harry Shondee Sr. described his son as sincere, modest, selfless and brave. Shondee’s sister, Ophelia Shondee, 27, said she will remember her brother for the smile he always had. ‘‘He was my little brother,’’ she said, ‘‘my happy little brother.’’

SEPT. 25

Army Spc. Robert O. Unruh


There was precious little that Robert O. Unruh’s family could do to dissuade him from joining the military. His great-grandfathers served in World War II, a grandfather fought in Korea and his father saw action in Vietnam. ‘‘We talked a little about Vietnam and I told him war wasn’t pretty, but he still wanted to serve his country,’’ said his father, Dennis Wahrer. Unruh, 25, of Tucson, died Sept. 25 in fighting near Baghdad. He was stationed in South Korea. Unruh’s mother, Karen Unruh-Wahrer, collapsed at her home Oct. 2, hours after viewing her son’s body, and died later that night. A friend said that she had been unable to stop crying after her son’s death. Robert Unruh grew up in Virginia, where he graduated from high school in 1998.

He joined the Army shortly after the first anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. He had been living not far from the Pentagon when the attack occurred. He chose to be a combat engineer in tribute to one of his grandfathers, who also held the post.

SEPT. 13

Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Halal


Encouraged by his parents to join the Marine Corps, Michael J. Halal grew from a troubled teenager into a determined man, his family said.

Even after his April 2001 enlistment, Halal went AWOL for several months, but the 2001 terrorist attacks motivated him to return. He faced a court-martial, took a pay cut and spent time in the brig, said his mother, Jacqueline Mikkelson. ‘‘He said, ‘I came back because I want to finish.’ It can be demoralizing, but it took courage,’’ said Mikkelson, 42. Halal, 22, of Glendale, was killed Sept. 13 in a crash in Anbar province.

Halal was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. His father, Ken, said he knew the military would have taught his son discipline. ‘‘At that time, of course, we were at peace time. I really didn’t understand the risk involved,’’ Ken said. Halal is survived by his wife, Tina.


Marine Lance Cpl. Quinn A. Keith


A quiet young man who loved fishing, hunting and wrestling, Quinn A. Keith was determined to fulfill his duty in Iraq, his family said.

‘‘He was scared to be there, but he knew he had to be there,’’ Clyde Keith said of his nephew, who enlisted one week after the 2001 attacks.

The 21-year-old weapons specialist from Page was killed Sept. 6 by a car bomb in Iraq’s Anbar province. He was stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. The Marine’s uncle, who became his legal guardian after the boy’s parents divorced, said one of the best things about the Marine was the love he showed for his family. ‘‘He was just one of those kids you wish you could have for a son,’’ Clyde Keith said.

AUG. 21

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Edward Reeder


Pat Potter recalls her great-nephew’s pet raccoon he had when he was 10 years old and a messy day the animal and its owner had years ago. "The raccoon chased the cat down the chimney, and they had soot all over his house, and he had to clean up all the soot," Potter said of Edward Reeder. "My favorite memory is of him and his raccoon."

Reeder, 32, of Camp Verde, died Aug. 21 when his Humvee hit a tank. He was based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. After he graduated from high school in 1990, Reeder joined the Marines. His career led to service in Bosnia, Liberia, Somalia and the Persian Gulf. "I think he decided that was what he wanted to do," Potter said. "His father was a cowboy, and maybe the military was a way out of ranch life." He had two children with his wife, Christine, 10-month-old Jarrett and 4-year-old Sarah Ruth. "He couldn’t have died doing a better thing," his wife said.

AUG. 2

Army Spc. Justin B. Onwordi


Justin B. Onwordi was 6-foot-4, played soccer for fun and "was almost always smiling," said his sister-in-law, Ramona. "That’s how I remember him." His wife, Monique, gave birth to a baby boy named Jonathan about a month before he died. Onwordi, 28, of Chandler, was killed Aug. 2 when he was on patrol and a device exploded. He was based at Fort Hood, Texas. Onwordi came to the United States from Nigeria in July 2000 and started Army training in South Carolina six months later. He met his wife when they both were in military training. He got two weeks’ leave in June to visit his wife and meet his newborn son.


Marine Cpl. Jeffrey D. Lawrence


The question wasn’t what Jeffrey D. Lawrence did. It was what he didn’t. ‘‘He did some modeling. He tried out for commercials. He was in a lot of plays at Palo Verde. He liked bull riding. He liked all sports. He was very involved,’’ said his mother, Pataki. Jeffrey Lawrence, 22, of Tucson, died July 6 when his armored vehicle was hit by an explosive outside Fallujah. He had been stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. His family learned of the news just as they prepared to celebrate the birth of his first child. The baby, a girl, was named Cadence Freedom. ‘‘He had the biggest heart of anybody I had ever known.

He was a good brother, a good friend, a good son, good husband, and I know he would have been a good daddy,’’ said his mother. Lawrence also is survived by his wife, Celeste, and father, Daniel.

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