SAN DIEGO (AP) Lance Cpl. Bryan Bertrand had just saved up enough money to buy a guitar. Gunnery Sgt. Stephen L. Bryson had called home to tell his mother he was thinking about her on his birthday.
The two men were among the seven Marines killed when their plane a KC-130 Hercules used for in-flight refueling and hauling cargo crashed into a mountain in Pakistan late Wednesday as it approached Shamsi military airfield.
“Any time you hear one Marine, from anywhere, has lost his life, it’s just sad. It’s even harder on you when they come from your home base,” said Maj. T.V. Johnson, director of public affairs at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego. The seven were based there.
The crash, which is being investigated, was the worst U.S. casualty toll in the war against terrorism. A search-and-rescue team reached the site by foot on Wednesday but found no bodies, officials said.
The fireball spotted by witnesses of the crash apparently was created by the fuel-laden plane’s impact into a mountain ridge rather than by hostile fire, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday. It had been on the first of a scheduled four stops, so it probably had an almost full cargo of fuel.
The dead included the first U.S. servicewoman to die since the war began. Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters, 25, was a radio operator who joined the Marine Corps in 1997. She followed in the footsteps of her older brother, Matthew Winters Jr., who was also a Marine.
Her father, Matthew Winters, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” yesterday from the family home in Gary, Ind., that he last spoke to her just before the year-end holidays.
“She told me, ‘Dad, I won’t be home for Christmas,’” but sent a guitar as a gift, he said. “She was so proud to get into the Marine Corps. She loved her job.”
Among the other victims were Sgt. Nathan P. Hays, a 21-year-old flight mechanic, who grew up in Wilbur, Wash.
The other victims were identified by the Department of Defense as: the co-pilot, Capt. Daniel G. McCollum, 29, of Irmo, S.C.; and Staff Sgt. Scott N. Germosen, 37, of New York.
Capt. McCollum joined the Marines in 1993 after graduating from Irmo High School, where he was a member of the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps, said JROTC coordinator Col. Pete Sercer.
Cpl. Bertrand, 23, of Coos Bay, Ore., had served as a Marine for three years and could have been home about a month ago. But he volunteered for another tour of duty, said his father, Bruce.
The dead Marines were part of the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352, whose history includes service in every major U.S. military action since World War II.
Known as the “Raiders,” the squadron was activated on April 1, 1943. Its logo shows an aircraft between a pair of crossed swords with the word “Raiders” above it.