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thedrifter
07-17-08, 07:06 AM
Family, friends remember Marine as funny, adventurous


By ELISA D. KELLER

ekeller@njherald.com

Stillwater resident Jeffery Stevenson joined the U.S. Marines Corps six months after graduating from Kittatinny Regional High School in 2006. A quiet young man known for his unwavering support of the military, he was all too aware of the danger that came with his deployment to Iraq in February.

"He said if anything did happen (to him), he wanted friends and family to know this is what he wanted to do," said his brother, Robert Stevenson, himself a member of the U.S. Air Force. "He didn't want anybody to feel bad for him."

Lance Cpl. Jeffery Stevenson, a machinist with the Seventh Engineers Support Battalion First Marine Division, was killed Sunday in Iraq. He is the first Sussex County resident to die in the Iraq war. The Department of Defense would not estimate when more information would be released about the circumstances surrounding Stevenson's death.

"He was just way more mature than most people are at his age," said Robert Stevenson, adding that his brother joined the Marines with the hope of making his own path. "I think he just wanted to do something different for himself."

The son of Karen Solarino and stepson of Joe Solarino, Stevenson was only 20 when he died. Described as kind and unselfish, friends and family said he knew from a very young age he wanted to enlist in the military.

"He was always interested in anything to do with the military," said his childhood friend Brad Lambert, who lived two houses away from the Stevensons in East Stroudsburg, Pa., before they moved to Stillwater several years ago.

"We played a lot of video games and we road ATVs together," Lambert said, noting that he got to spend time with Stevenson before he was deployed this winter. "He was friends with everybody -- very well liked. He would do anything for his friends."

Though former teachers have described Stevenson as patriotic, his friend Joseph Corleto saw his desire to join the military differently. "It was more like he wanted to do it for himself," he said. "I guess he wanted his own sense of adventure. He was very quiet, (but) he feared nothing. He said he was living his dream."

Stevenson's MySpace page portrays a similarly adventuresome spirit. The quote listed at the top of his profile reads, "I refuse to tip-toe through life, only to arrive safely at death."

"It's almost like a puzzle," Corleto said about that choice of words. "His motto was, 'Why should I be careful?' I think he lived more than most people have."

"He put nothing in his yearbook. No picture, no profile," said Corleto, adding that Stevenson was very modest about his strength and high pain tolerance when they worked out together. Before he left for the military, the new recruit impulsively decided to get three new tattoos, including an angel and a skull design.

Stevenson also enjoyed lifting weights, playing football with his brother, and playing video games and basketball with his friends.

"He wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty or just to go out and play," said Corleto, describing him as a lover of the outdoors who enjoyed building things and working as a mechanic. When he finished his tour of duty, Stevenson had planned to get involved with electrical work or become a math teacher.

"He was extremely funny. He made everybody laugh (because he was) so blunt," Corleto added. "I'm never going to forget him. It's been like an emotional roller coaster. I still can't believe it."

"As a father, my heart goes out to his mom and dad. It's such a tremendous loss," said family friend Lou Sylvester. "I'm sure they're proud, but I sometimes wonder how that's any easier. When something happens to someone in our town, especially like this, it really does touch all of us. It's a tragedy."

In honor of Stevenson, Kittatinny Regional High School will fly its flag at half-staff throughout the week.

Ellie