Marines Bid Farewell to Fallen Helicopter Crews in Moving Service

Unidentified family members embrace around a memorial for the 12 Marines who died when their helicopters crashed off the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, Friday Jan. 22, 2016, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)
Unidentified family members embrace around a memorial for the 12 Marines who died when their helicopters crashed off the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, Friday Jan. 22, 2016, at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

Capt. Brian "Kenny" Kennedy was a CH-46 pilot by training who had won over fellow CH-53E crew members at Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, despite the intense rivalry between the two aircraft platforms.

Sgt. Dillon "D-Dog" Semolina was a determined Marine who spent a deployment to Australia sneaking out of the barracks at night to meet a girl he would later marry.

Maj. Shawn Campbell was a family man whose call sign, NAFTA, stood for "Not Another F***ing Texas Aggie."

A Friday memorial service for 12 Marines killed when their CH-53E Super Stallion Helicopters collided during a night flight over the Hawaiian coast was largely spent in reminiscences and fond memories about each of the fallen Marines.

Held at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Marines from HMH-463 paid tribute to their brothers against a backdrop of 12 battlefield crosses with portraits of the men, along with their dog tags, vests, flight helmets and boots.

The impact the tragedy had on the Marine Corps community and the nation was underscored Friday afternoon when President Barack Obama released a statement conveying his sympathies to family of the fallen.

"As we mourn this loss, we are reminded of the sacrifice men and women of our Armed Forces make each day for the freedom and security of their fellow Americans," Obama said. "The willingness of our troops to complete dangerous training to prepare for any mission our nation asks of them will not be forgotten."

The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, also honored the men in a statement.

"We all know that what we do as Marines is dangerous. The men and women in our ranks today, much like the generations of Marines before, are absolutely committed to each other, to our Corps, our country, and our mission," he said. "They are courageous, determined, and focused on success. These twelve Marines embodied those same qualities and traits. We will miss them, but we will never forget them."

The helo crash was followed by five days of intensive search-and-rescue efforts in a debris field off Oahu's North Shore. With no survivors found, the Coast Guard and Marine Corps finally called off the search Jan. 19 and changed the status of the Marines to "deceased" a day later.

In his tribute to the men at the memorial, HMH-463 Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Eric Purcell thanked the military and civilian responders who had searched for the men and grieved for his Marines "in the prime of their life and full of joy and hope, only to be taken from us in an instant."

He encouraged the assembled family members and Marines to speak often about their fallen brothers.

"The more of we speak of their deeds, their actions and their sacrifices, the more we can be sure that the memory of those sacrifices will live on," he said.

Though the Marines had not died in combat, he said, they had perished faithfully executing training to strengthen the nation's defenses.

"There's a Latin quote ... 'if you seek peace, train for war,'" Purcell said.

In the Marine Corps tradition, the ceremony ended with a roll call of the fallen. The names -- each called thrice -- echoed in the silence.

-- Hope Hodge Seck  can be reached at hope.seck@monster.com.

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