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Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based Marine unit memorializes four killed in action in Iraq

10 Aug 2006 | Staff Sgt. Jim Goodwin

U.S. Marines serving near this Euphrates River city memorialized four Marines who were killed in action last month on a small U.S. and Iraqi military outpost here.

Dozens of Marines from the Twentynine Palms, Calif.-based 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion gathered Aug. 10, 2006, at a combat outpost here to remember:  Sgt. Christian B. Williams, a 27-year-old from Winterhaven, Fla.; Cpl. Phillip E. Baucus, a 28-year-old from Wolf Creek, Mont.; Lance Cpl. Anthony E. Butterfield, a 19-year-old from Clovis, Calif.; and Lance Cpl. Jason Hanson, a 21-year-old from Forks, Wash.

All four Marines were part of the battalion’s Delta Company, which arguably saw the most combat of the battalion’s two infantry companies to date during the unit’s current deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

For about three months, the company was attached to Regimental Combat Team 5 in eastern Al Anbar Province, where the Marines encountered daily combat in the form of small-arms attacks, ambushes, and improvised explosive devices.

Williams, Baucus, Butterfield and Hanson were all members of Company D’s 2nd Platoon.  Their deaths were the first four the battalion has suffered since arriving in Iraq in mid March.

“This platoon has really been through a lot,” said Staff Sgt. Blaine L. Scott, 2nd Platoon’s platoon sergeant and 33-year-old native of Kellerton, Iowa. “We, meaning the whole company, had 14 types of (enemy) contact one day (in Fallujah).” 

During the memorial service, Scott and the rest of 2nd platoon stood in a military formation just yards from the memorial – Kevlar helmets set atop four rifles, stuck bayonet-first into a wooden pedestal and adorned with each fallen Marine’s dog tags.

Surrounded by Light Armored Vehicles, the armored, all-terrain troop transport vehicles which hallmark the battalion’s function as a mechanized infantry battalion, Marines took turns speaking of each of the four Marines.

Hanson, who joined the Marine Corps in May 2005 and was assigned to 3d LAR Battalion in November 2005, was remembered as a “tough and hard-working Marine, who never complained about anything,” said Pfc. Travis J. Henzler, a 20-year-old from Decorah, Iowa.

Henzler said he knew Hanson “a little over a year,” though it “felt like a lifetime.”

“The only time I heard Jason complain was when he got shot in the chest, but even then he wasn’t afraid to take point and risk getting shot again,” said Henzler, speaking to the assembled crowd while the fallen’s dog tags could be heard ‘clanking’ together, caused by the light morning breeze.

Hanson was shot in the chest by an insurgent during a foot patrol through Habbaniyah in May. The shot knocked him off his feet, but left no permanent damage. Hanson’s body armor stopped the bullet, which left him only with bruising.

“I saw [Hanson] on the ground, ran up to him and rolled him over,” said Hospitalman Chad T. Kenyon, one of the company’s Navy corpsmen and a 20-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., during an interview last month. “I saw that the round had gone through the front of his flak, so I opened up his flak and saw no bleeding. Then he looked up at me and said, ‘I’m fine, Doc.’”

Pfc. Gary M. Cassen, a 19-year-old from Colfax, Calif., remembered Butterfield, who was assigned to 3rd LAR Battalion in November 2005, as a person who could cheer up just about anyone, as well as a man fond of his friends and family.

“He always talked about two things,” said Cassen. “One was his friends and the second was his family.”

Cassen met Butterfield the summer before the two shipped to boot camp together in June 2004. The two were in the same platoon at boot camp, and they attended the School of Infantry together.  Butterfield spoke frequently about reuniting with his mother once he returned to the U.S. from Iraq, said Cassen. 

“He had this big vision about getting off the bus, jumping over a fence, running through a crowd pushing people over, and running straight into his mom’s arms,” said Cassen during the ceremony.

While in the Marine Corps, Butterfield had a list of goals he wanted to achieve before leaving the service, which included teaching junior Marines about the LAV (Light Armored Vehicle), run a near-perfect physical fitness test, become a martial arts instructor, and take as many correspondence courses as possible, according to Cassen.

Cassen said he and several of Butterfield’s close friends came up with a list of words to describe their fallen comrade: “Outgoing, enthusiastic, loving, caring, honest, thoughtful, courteous, honorable, sensible and humorous.”

“These words aren’t really strong enough to describe the person,” said Cassen. “We love you buddy, and we’ll miss you.”

Baucus, who joined the battalion in April 2003, was a good friend and loving husband, who did a “damn good job” when it came to teaching junior Marines the in’s and out’s of the Marine Corps, said Cpl. Benjamin T. Bosse, a 25-year-old from Coopersville, Mich.

Baucus’ teachings to his subordinate Marines still shows today, as those very same Marines “are still alive,” said Bosse.

“He knew what hard work was…not only on the job, but off the job,” said Bosse.

“It didn’t matter who you were, whether you needed a place to go on Thanksgiving or you just needed to get off base, he was the guy who’d get you off (base), because he saw Marines as ’24-7,’” said Bosse. “He was always willing to go the extra mile.”

Bosse was Williams’ “gunner” on a light armored vehicle. Unlike Baucus, Butterfield, and Hanson, Williams joined the battalion from another unit, said Bosse.

Still, Williams was part of the unit, and a good friend.

Williams often volunteered to stand the dreaded “turret watch,” which required Marines to stand guard duty behind one of the machine guns mounted to the eight-wheeled light armored vehicle. He did so to give junior Marines a break from the duty.

“He’d actually jump up in there and stand two hours, three hours, four hours, it didn’t matter,” said Bosse. “He kept to himself, but he was a Marine, and he was a friend. He, too, had a good heart.”

The ceremony ended with a final benediction by the battalion’s chaplain, a final role call, a gun salute, and the playing of taps. 

After the ceremony, the Marines filed off in long lines, each taking turn paying final respects to each of the fallen’s memorials. Several Marines stopped to take snapshots of the memorial, others stood silently staring, others made the sign of the cross, while others simply consoled one another.

“They all gave their lives for one thing – for love of their country and for the men and women back home who will never understand why we do it,” said Bosse, who added that he and Baucus were going to leave the Marine Corps at about the same time to pursue college dreams.

Just a couple hours after the ceremony, 2nd platoon’s members were back on the streets of Al Anbar Province, patrolling with Iraqi soldiers, looking for signs of the insurgency, as they’ve done every day for nearly five months.

The battalion is scheduled to return to the U.S. later this year and will be replaced by another Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.

Email Staff Sgt. Goodwin at: goodwinjm@gcemnf-wiraq.usmc.mil.