View Full Version : Very proud' area Marines are mourned

02-21-06, 06:24 AM
Very proud' area Marines are mourned
2 copter-crash victims were to come home in April, fathers say
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Of The Patriot-News

Sgt. Jonathan Eric McColley was proud to be continuing a family history of military service that dates to the French and Indian War.

McColley, 23, joined the Marines after graduating from Gettysburg High School in 2000, said his father, John McColley, a former Marine.

"The thing Eric was the most proud of, was being a Marine," John McColley said. "He was the proudest Marine I ever met."

Jonathan E. McColley, of Straban Twp., Adams County, and Capt. Bryan D. Willard, 33, formerly of Enola and Swatara Twp., were among 10 U.S. service members killed Friday when two U.S. Marine Corps helicopters crashed off the eastern coast of Africa.

Another Pennsylvania Marine, Sgt. James F. Fordyce, 22, of Newtown Square, Delaware County, also died.

Military officials were trying to determine why the aircraft went down in shallow water. They said there was no indication of hostile fire, and visibility was good with light wind.

Willard and his wife, Shannon, lived in Jacksonville, N.C., said his father, David Willard of Enola. Shannon is in Miami with her mother, David Willard said. The couple had been married three years and had no children, he said.

Yesterday, the fathers of McColley and Willard recalled theirs sons' pride in their service. Both men were to return to the United States in April, they said.

"Bryan had served two tours of duty in Iraq, and we thought he was reasonably safe in Djibouti, at least safer than he had been in Iraq," Willard said.

The two CH-53E choppers, carrying a dozen crew and troops from a U.S. counterterrorism force, crashed during a training flight in the Gulf of Aden, near the coastal town of Ras Siyyan in Djibouti. They were with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which is responsible for fighting terrorism in the region. Two crew members are being treated at a hospital in Germany.

McColley, who was called "Eric," was on a six-month extension of his enlistment. After his return in April, he planned to enter a military police school in Missouri.

"Eric had been on a tour of duty in Iraq, and he wanted to transfer out of the air wing and into criminal justice," his father said.

"He was planning to re-enlist so he could go to military police school, which would offer more opportunities in civilian life, even though he was aware that being in the military police was a guaranteed trip back to Iraq," John McColley said. "That's where all the military police are serving."

He said his son was unassuming about his accomplishments. "Eric was awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Service Medal for his service in Iraq," he said. "When I commented on it, he said, 'I was just doing my job.'"

The thing he would like people to remember most about Eric, John McColley said, was his sense of humor.

"He would light up a room just by walking into it," he said. "He loved life."

Eric displayed his sense of humor in a recent e-mail message to his family, attaching a photo labeled "sexy guy." The photograph showed him standing, gun in hand, in a sandy, desolate area. Eric was an Eagle Scout and an avid swimmer who taught a lot of Adams County children to swim, his father said.

McColley received official word from the military late Friday that his son was listed as missing. Early Saturday, he was told that his son had died.

McColley's sister, Cheryl Newbanks, spent six years in the Navy aboard the carrier USS Enterprise. She finished her service about a year ago, but her husband still serves on the Enterprise.

Bryan Willard was a 1990 graduate of East Pennsboro Area High School, where he played football.

"Bryan was on leave last fall, during the high school football season, and went to an East Pennsboro game," David Willard said. "They were losing, and at halftime he went into the locker room and gave them a pep talk. The team later sent him an autographed football."

Willard graduated from Lock Haven University, then studied mortuary science at Northampton College.

Bryan Willard "had some admiration for the military," his father said, partly because Bryan's older brother, Bradley, was in the Navy, serving on nuclear submarines.

Willard wanted to fly helicopters and joined the Marines, his father said. He went through the Navy's flight school at Pensacola, Fla., then underwent training in helicopters at the New River Air Station in North Carolina.

"Bryan helped evacuate people from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina," his father said. "He was very proud of being a Marine, and we were very proud of him. The whole community was proud of him."

Funeral arrangements for McColley and Willard were incomplete last night.

The remains of the eight Marines and two airmen were returned to the U.S. on Sunday, a spokeswoman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. JERRY L. GLEASON: 975-9782 or jgleason @patriot-news.com