Third generation Marine killed in Iraq


April 16, 2004

His grandfather, a corporal, had survived a World War II amphibious landing on a bloody speck of Pacific Ocean coral known as Peleliu.

His father, also a corporal, had made it out safely after fighting in Vietnam's jungles near Danang.

But luck did not smile upon Cpl. Kevin T. Kolm, the third generation of Kolm men to serve in the Marines.

The Hicksville High School graduate was killed Tuesday as Marines struggled to quell the two-week uprising in Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

"My son was where he wanted to be, doing what Marines do," said Kevin T. Kolm's father, Thomas Kolm, yesterday from his Hicksville home. "He was with his brothers, defending other Marines."

Kevin T. Kolm, who was killed Tuesday in Fallujah, is the third Long Island resident to be killed in Iraq since President George W. Bush sent troops there one year ago. Pfc. Raheen T. Heighter, who was posthumously promoted to corporal, was killed July 24. Pfc. Jacob Fletcher, who was posthumously promoted to specialist, was killed Nov. 13. Both were from Bay Shore.

Another Islander, Sgt. Michael J. Esposito Jr., of Brentwood, was killed March 18 in central Afghanistan while trying to suppress resurgent Taliban activity.

Thomas Kolm said he believes his son, who was a member of the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, was part of an effort to rescue a group of Marines who were pinned down in Fallujah when his own vehicle came under attack. He said one other Marine was killed in the incident.

Kolm's death came during what has been the deadliest period for American troops since the war began. As of Saturday, 64 service people had been killed over the previous seven days. At least eight more service members, including Kolm, had been killed between Sunday and Wednesday, according to the Defense Department.

In all, 687 soldiers have been killed in Iraq as of 10 a.m. yesterday, according to Defense Department figures.

Thomas Kolm said his son enlisted in the Marines four years ago, when he was 19, and that his tour of duty was to be over this September.

After graduating from Hicksville High School in 1998, he had worked as a carpenter and had taken classes at Nassau Community College. But always, his father said, there were thoughts of joining the Marines.

"I never said to him, 'I want you to join,' but it was always around the house," said Thomas Kolm yesterday, as he sat near the folded American flag that had adorned the coffin of his father, Ralph Kolm, who died in 1978.

Kolm, 23, served as a crew chief for an amphibious assault vehicle, a lightly armored troop carrier capable of landing on a beach and then driving on shore, his father said. He landed in Iraq on March 20, as part of the Marine contingent that replaced the Army's 101st Airborne Division in the Fallujah area.

He called home three times from the battlefield. On April 4, as Marines were massing around Fallujah, he telephoned with a cryptic message, saying something big was about to happen and urging his family to "watch the news."

Thomas Kolm said he last heard from his son at dawn Monday. "He said 'Dad, I just have a moment. Love you guys. Don't know when I'll be able to call back,'" his father said. "Twenty four hours later, he was dead."

Word of Kolm's death spread sadness through Nassau yesterday. County Executive Thomas Suozzi said all flags at area buildings will be flown at half-staff from today to Sunday in Kolm's honor.

"Kevin gave his life protecting the freedom of others," Suozzi said in a release yesterday. "My deepest sympathies go out to the entire Kolm family for their loss."

In Hicksville, flags also flew at half-staff at the school district's nine school building, including at Hicksville High, where Kolm was known as a gregarious comic.

"Kevin is fondly remembered by his teachers and administrators as an enthusiastic and energetic student," Hicksville School Superintendent Maureen Bright said in a statement yesterday. Bright said flags would remain at half-staff throughout the district until after Kolm's funeral, which so far has not been scheduled.

Several of his grieving friends chose to honor him by having the word "Release" - the title of a song by the rock group Pearl Jam - tattooed on their arms. Kolm had worn the same tattoo on his back.

"You can tell the kind of person he was by the support we have been getting," said Bob Rutigliano, 35, of Holtsville, who is engaged to Kolm's only sibling, Christine.

As his family grieves, Thomas Kolm said he was particularly comforted yesterday by a telephone call from Marlowe Fletcher, of Island Park, a veteran who also lost a son to the fighting in Iraq.

"We bonded immediately," Kolm said. "He just said all the right things. He was very emotional, very supportive. It's good to speak to someone who comprehends."

Kolm said he felt "consummate pride, consummate grief" and hoped his son's death would not be used for partisan advantage by people who support the war or oppose it.

Asked what he wants the world to know about his fallen son, his voice broke, but he did not hesitate: "That I'm proud of him."

Cpl. Kevin T. Kolm