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A mortar shell explosion Monday at an Army depot in Hawthorne, Nev., killed seven Marines and injured eight other servicemen. Here are profiles of the victims:
AARON RIPPERDA, 26
Ripperda was a football player while he attended high school in Highland, Ill., near St. Louis. He was respectful and hardworking, according to Highland High School Assistant Principal Karen Gauen, and “definitely had the discipline for the military.”
Ripperda had dreams of becoming a professional chef. His aunt, Beverly Lesicko, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he joined the Marines for a chance to explore the world. He was scheduled to come home in May.
JOSH TAYLOR, 21
Marine Lance Cpl. Taylor, who worked with mortars and served tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait, had dreamed being in the Corps since watching the History Channel as a boy. He joined right after graduating from a high school in Marietta, Ohio, in 2010.
Taylor’s grandfather, Larry Stephens, said Taylor was engaged to be married, with a wedding planned for May.
His fiancée’s father called him an exceptional person.
“You don’t meet many young men like him today,” Keith Malone told The Marietta Times. “He was respectful to everyone, very humble, just happy, happy all the time.”
Taylor is also survived by three sisters and a brother.
ROGER MUCHNICK, 23
Muchnick, who’d been in the Marines for about three years, had served in Afghanistan and was considering returning to college after his enlistment was up. He played high school lacrosse and football in Westport, Conn., and later played lacrosse at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he studied business.
In a biography on the university’s website, Muchnick said the one thing he would like to do before he died was “live,” and his most embarrassing moment was getting caught lip-synching in a school talent show.
“He was at the top of his game when this happened,” said his grandfather, Jerome Muchnick. “You can’t imagine losing a very handsome, 23-year-old grandson who was vital and loving.”
JOSH MARTINO, 19
Pfc. Martino, who hailed from Dubois, Pa., and was preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan, aspired to be a Marine since boyhood.
“Since he was probably 8 years old he wanted to be a Marine,” said his mother, Karen Perry. “That’s all he wanted to do.”
Martino was a talkative former high school athlete and accomplished hunter who hoped to marry his fiancée later this year, Perry said.
His mother said she first heard a radio news report about the Monday accident, then three Marines arrived at her workplace to say her son was among the seven dead.
WILLIAM TAYLOR WILD IV, 21
Lance Cpl. Wild joined the Marines shortly after graduating in 2010 from Severna Park High School near Annapolis, Md. His mother, Elizabeth Wild, said he was in a weapons platoon that was scheduled to deploy in November to Afghanistan. He already had been deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Kuwait.
Wild said her son always wanted to go into the military, like his father, who is a command chief in the Air Force Reserve at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
DAVID FENN II, 20
Lance Cpl. Fenn, who was from Polk City, Fla., enlisted with the Marine Corps in June 2010. He was promoted to his current rank nine months later. Fenn, who served as a mortarman, received numerous accolades including a Combat Action Ribbon and National Defense Service Medal. He was last deployed in 2011 to Afghanistan.
MASON VANDERWORK, 21
Lance Cpl. Vanderwork loved his 19-year-old wife, Taylor, his Mustang convertible and going to North Carolina’s beaches.
But he loved being a Marine the most, his young widow recalled through tears Thursday.
“He loved what he did. He took his job very seriously. But the mortars weren’t supposed to be the hard part,” Taylor Vanderwork said in a telephone interview from their Jacksonville, N.C., home. “The mountain training, that was supposed to be the hard part.”
Her 21-year-old husband was one of seven Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force killed in a mortar accident late Monday in Nevada. Eight other servicemen were injured when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise at the Hawthorne Army Depot.
Like Vanderwork, who graduated in 2010 from St. Stephens High School in Hickory, N.C., several were already veterans of overseas combat duty.
Mason loved his friends and family in Hickory and his Marine Corps buddies, Taylor said. He loved his Mustang convertible, waking her up at 6 a.m. to head to the nearby beaches, and hanging out with his friends and family.
Across his chest, she said, he had a tattoo that read: “Sacrifice. Without fear there is no courage.”
They married the day after her graduation from Hickory High School and wanted to start a family. He’d called her last week during a brief respite amid their rigorous combat training and told her he’d be home Tuesday.
“He said we could talk all day then, if we wanted,” she said. “But my world turned into a nightmare. I never wanted that knock on my door.”
Vanderwork said she liked to think about the lively, prankster side to Mason, who would hop on the grocery cart and make her push his muscled frame around the store. He was well known for tossing spitballs at school and celebrating with his friends.
“He loved life. He was a daredevil. If you gave him a challenge, he’d take it,” she said. He’d been deployed once to Afghanistan before they met, and again to Kuwait, she said.
“He was the most amazing man I’d ever met,” she said.
Vanderwork said she was working with her late husband’s family and the Marine Corps to arrange for ceremonies in both Hickory and near Camp Lejeune.
“I want everyone who knew Mason to be able to say their goodbyes,” she said.
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