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thedrifter
03-11-07, 06:48 AM
Marines recalled as heroes and brothers
A memorial service held for crash victims and a third recruiter
Sunday, March 11, 2007
BY NYIER ABDOU
Star-Ledger Staff

At a memorial service yesterday for three Marine recruiters, two of whom died in a Randolph car crash two weeks ago, the chaplain asked everyone in the room to speak one word -- anything they were moved to say.

"Selfless," one Marine called out. "Brothers," another said. "Gratitude." "Heroes." "Fighter."

On stage under spotlights were three helmets sitting atop the men's weapons and boots, their dog tags slung over the weapons. As Marines filed out of the service led by Chaplain Richard Younger, they briefly touched each pair of boots.

Some 350 people filled the Francis H. Parker building at Picatinny Arsenal, in Rockaway Township, yesterday to honor the men: Staff Sgt. Eric Shawn Maul, 31, who lived on base at Picatinny Arsenal, and Sgt. William Pascal, 27, of Newton, who were killed in a car accident that seriously injured another three Marines on Feb. 23.

Also remembered was Cpl. David Webb, Jr., 24, who was found dead at his home in Lake Hopatcong on March 5. Webb was assigned to the Rockaway recruitment office to fill in after the deadly crash, said Sgt. Kevin Hayner, a Marine spokesman. His death is still under investigation.

On the evening of Feb. 23, Pascal, Maul and two other recruiters were in a government car driven by Sgt. Nicholas Gendron, 26, who lives on base. On a poorly lighted, winding stretch of Franklin Road near the Denville-Randolph border, the car swerved off the road and into a tree, police said.

Sgt. Jeffrey Morella, 24, of Manville, was the only man in the six-person Rockaway office not in the car that night. When he came to the podium he abandoned pages of notes to speak "from the heart," he said, of the group's close-knit, pal-around relationship.

"There was never a time when there was any silence," Morella said. On the day of the crash, he said, Maul -- the master of a "corny" dance dubbed the "leg slapper" -- had him "laughing so hard I started crying."

"Shawn wasn't my boss, he wasn't my friend. I looked at him as my brother," Morella said. "He was someone you could come to with anything and you'd know he had the answer."

Maul, an Oregon native who served two tours in Iraq, went straight from being rookie recruiter of the year to being in charge, said Maj. Kevin Norton, the recruiters' commanding officer. A former wrestler and football player with a wicked, in-your-face sense of humor, Maul would often wrestle high school kids to break the ice, Norton said.

"He would look a guy in the eye and say, 'You're not going to cut it in my corps' -- just to see what the comeback would be," Norton said.

Pascal, who grew up in Clayton, served in Okinawa and was a die-hard poker player. In an obituary released by the Marine Corps, Pascal's wife, Susan, described her husband as a "hopeless romantic" who was still "110 percent jarhead."

"He took care of everybody," Morella said. "He always looked out for people."

Bringing in new Marines was a challenge that the three men honored yesterday seized with "an infectious, can-do attitude," Norton said.

"Recruiting duty right now is the most challenging duty for Marines stateside," Norton said. "There's a saying among Marines now: You're either in Iraq, Afghanistan or recruiting. If you're not in one of those places, you're not in the fight."

Webb, who grew up in the Lake Hopatcong area, lived that creed. When he briefly left the Marine Corps and joined the New York Police Department, Webb knew right away it was not for him, said his friend, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Cooper, 28, of Rockaway.

"He liked the loyalty of the Marine Corps better," Cooper said. Webb re-enlisted on Jan. 24 -- his birthday.

Webb was a fiercely loyal friend who loved to ride his Honda motorcycle, Cooper said. He was also a relentless recruiter, getting up at 4 a.m. to accompany Cooper, even when he didn't have to. "He talked to everybody," Cooper said.

Two of the Marines injured in the Randolph crash, Glendale Santamaria, of Jersey City, and Sgt. Thomas Sweeney, of Lakeville, Pa., remained in critical condition at Morristown Memorial Hospital yesterday, according to a hospital spokesperson.

Gendron, the driver, was recently released and attended the service yesterday.

Nyier Abdou may be reached at nabdou@starledger.com or (90 429-9925.

Ellie