- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

MARDELA SPRINGS, Md. When they take your official portrait for the U.S. Marines, you don't smile. That was just about the only time Staff Sgt. Walter F. "Trae" Cohee III, 26, didn't have a grin from ear to ear.

"He had such a smiling face, he always loved to smile. He had such a sweet face, but he was a Marine, through and through," said Coralee Powell, Sgt. Cohee's aunt.

On Sunday, Sgt. Cohee, who was born and raised in Mardela Springs, a small town just off Route 50 near Salisbury, became the latest American casualty in the war in Afghanistan. The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter he was flying in went down about 40 miles south of the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, shortly after takeoff, killing Sgt. Cohee and Sgt. Dwight J. Morgan, 24, of Mendocino, Calif., and injuring five others.

Since word got out here that the local boy who used to play soccer, adored car racing and loved to spin tall tales was killed over the weekend, the Cohee family home on Main Street has had a steady flow of visitors.

Relatives said about 100 people on Sunday and another 100 yesterday poured into the small Cape Cod with the three U.S. flags on display and the red, white and blue carnations on the front porch. The town, which is so small there is no traffic light, seemed to have converged at the Cohee home yesterday afternoon.

"This is not surprising. It is more comforting than anything else," said Mrs. Powell, referring to the outpouring of support. Family friends from the fire department, where Sgt. Cohee had once volunteered, were on hand, along with countless others.

Jeanne Cohee, Sgt. Cohee's mother, politely greeted reporters at the front door.

"Thank you for coming out here," Mrs. Cohee said, red-faced but composed, before stepping away to speak with mourning family friends who had just arrived.

"This is a very private matter," Mrs. Powell said. "We understand that people want to know [about Trae]. We love America, too, and Trae died for a reason it's important that people know what a dedicated Marine Trae was and what a good son he was."

The Cohees last saw their son in September, when they visited him in California, where he had been stationed. Despite the recent terrorist attacks, and the fear associated with flying, Mrs. Powell said Sgt. Cohee's parents went ahead with their plans and flew out on Sept. 15.

"They flew because they were determined not to let [the terrorists] deter them from seeing their son," she said.

In an e-mail sent to the family on Dec. 21, the last time they had contact with Sgt. Cohee, he told of not having taken a shower in 17 days and could not tell them where he was, Mrs. Powell said.

"He wasn't complaining he was just telling us of the sacrifice," Mrs. Powell said. "It showed us what a dedicated person he was."

The Cohees have a long history of work with the fire department.

Both parents and older brother Chris volunteered with the local fire department and Sgt. Cohee joined when he was 18.

When tragedy struck the New York Fire Department on September 11, Mrs. Powell said Trae was "devastated." He knew then he would be called on to serve in whatever campaign the United States undertook to root out terrorism.

"It hit him hard," she said. "At that point, he told his mom to please understand what he knew he had to do."

Sgt. Stacy Powell, 24, Sgt. Cohee's cousin, is a Marine stationed at Norfolk. He returned home yesterday teary-eyed but resolute. He first heard about his cousin's death on television.

"At first, I thought he did something good, but then when it said he was dead, I flipped out and started calling everyone at home, and could not get in touch with anyone," Sgt. Powell said, not afraid to show tears.

The two cousins were close friends.

"We did everything together," Sgt. Powell said, including working with the same recruiter when they both decided to join the Marines first Sgt. Cohee and, two years later, Sgt. Powell.

Sgt. Powell followed in the footsteps of his older cousin and now flies CH-46 helicopters. He has to return in 10 days and is not worried or anxious. "I am going to finish out Trae's job," he said.

Including Sunday's crash, nine Marines have been killed in Afghanistan this month.

Sgt. Powell said the danger is part of being a Marine. "It's going to happen when the Marines come in; they are always the first to go in," he said. "That's why the American public still sends us in."

Sgt. Cohee's remains are currently in Germany and are scheduled to arrive at Dover Air Force Base on Thursday.

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