HICKORY, CATAWBA COUNTY - Family and friends gathered in Hickory Monday to say their goodbyes to LCpl. Mason Vanderwork, one of seven Camp Lejeune Marines killed in the Nevada mortar explosion.
The funeral service for the 21-year-old Hickory native was held at the Bass-Smith Funeral Home Monday afternoon. His family then met with friends at St. Stephens High School, where Vanderwork graduated from. A memorial was held at the school's gym.
Vanderwork was one of seven Camp Lejeune Marines who were killed when a 60mm mortar exploded at Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada on March 18, military officials said. According to Camp Lejeune officials, Vanderwork joined the Marine Corps in June, 2010, and was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011.
Vanderwork's body landed at Wilmington International Airport on March 28. His body was then taken to Jacksonville, for a memorial at Camp Lejeune's Onslow Beach.
In addition to Vanderwork, the other Marines killed were identified as LCpl. David P. Fenn ll, 20, of Polk City, Fla., Pfc. Joshua M. Martino, 19, of Clearfield, Pa., LCpl. William T. Wild IV, 21, of Anne Arundel, Md., LCpl. Joshua C. Taylor, 21, of Marietta, Ohio, LCpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23, of Fairfield, Conn., and Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda, 26, of Madison, Ill.
All the victims were part of the 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune.
David Fenn ll, 20, from Polk City, Fla., joined the Marine Corps in June, 2010. He was most recently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. An online fundraiser has been set up for Fenn's girlfriend.
Pfc. Joshua Martino, 19, of Clearfield, Pa., joined the Marine Corps in July, 2012. He had wanted to be a Marine since he was about 8 years old, his mother said. Martino was training in Nevada in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
LCpl. William Wild IV, 21, of Anne Arundel, Md., joined the Marine Corps in October, 2010. He was most recently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. Wild was a 2010 graduate of Severna Park High School, according to friends and family.
LCpl. Joshua Taylor, 21, of Marietta, Ohio, joined the Marine Corps in June 2010. Taylor had talked about being a Marine since he was about 5 years old, his grandfather said. Taylor served tours in Afghanistan and Kuwait, and was preparing for another tour in Afghanistan. Taylor was engaged to be married, with a wedding planned for May.
LCpl. Roger Muchnick, 23, of Fairfield, Conn., joined the Marine Corps in June, 2010. He was most recently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. According to his grandfather, Muchnick, a graduate of Staples High School, was thinking about going to college after serving with the Marines.
Cpl. Aaron Ripperda, 26, of Madison, Ill., joined the Marine Corps in September, 2008. He was most recently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. Ripperda was about to finish his five-year tour with the Marine Corps in May, and had planned to resume college, his father told the St. Louis Dispatch. Ripperda wanted to pursue a bachelor's degree in business from Southern Illinois University.
According to Brigadier General James Lukeman, the commander of the 2nd Marine Division, the Camp Lejeune Marines were taking part in live fire and maneuver training at the Hawthorne Army Depot, when a mortar exploded at about 9:55 p.m. Tuesday Pacific Time.
"They knew exactly what they got into when the joined the service, and they are simply magnificent," Gen. Lukeman said. " It's a tragic loss when we lose some of the nation's finest."
In addition to the seven Marines killed, eight other service members were wounded. Six of the injured have been identified: LCpl. Sean J. Burke, LCpl. Douglas L. Hand II, LCpl. Myles E. Harris, HM3 Ian S. McClanahan, Sgt. Caleb W. Patton, and CWO-2 Ryan P. West.
According to Camp Lejeune officials, McClanahan was considered very seriously injured. Burke, Hand, Harris, Patton and West were seriously injured and two Marines were treated for minor injuries and released.
Gen. Lukeman said he did not know what exactly caused the 60mm mortar to explode. Military officials said they will look into whether the Marines followed proper procedures, and whether there was a malfunction in the firing device or in the mortar itself.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is putting a temporary hold on the use of 60 mm mortars until the investigation is complete.
"We send our prayers and condolences to the families of Marines involved in this tragic incident. We remain focused on ensuring that they are supported through this difficult time," said Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, II MEF commanding general. "We mourn their loss, and it is with heavy hearts we remember their courage and sacrifice."
Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) released the following statement in response to the deadly explosion:
"I was so saddened to learn about the seven Marines from Camp Lejeune who were killed [Monday] night in Nevada. Our Marines, and all of our service members, demonstrate their bravery everyday as they serve our country. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Marines who were killed and those who were injured, and I will continue to monitor the investigation so we can find out what happened and take appropriate steps."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama is also monitoring the situation closely.
The Hawthorne Army Depot, about 140 miles southeast of Reno, is used for storing ammunition and weapon stocks awaiting demilitarization. The facility also provides high desert training facilities for military units.
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