FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Silence fell over the room while many bowed their heads and listened to the spoken memories of a loving friend and fellow Marine.
“When President Regan stated, ‘Some people wonder their whole lives if they made a difference, the Marines don’t have that problem,’ he was referring to likes of Lance Cpl. Kurt E. Dechen. Kurt made a difference and for that I will never forget him,” said Lt. Col. Christopher A. Landro, the battalion commander, from Kennesaw, Ga.
Marines from 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, gathered for a memorial service held to honor Dechen Aug. 14. The 24-year-old was killed in action Aug. 3, while conducting combat operations in Fallujah.
“Kurt was just one of those Marines that you noticed, remembered and counted on,” said Maj. Vaughn L. Ward, C Company commander. “I was fortunate enough to know Lance Cpl. Dechen. I would always enjoy our conversations. He had this positive air about him and he seemed to walk around with a permanent grin on his face.”
Dechen’s fellow Marines and friends remembered him most for his ability to make any situation better with a smile, passion for his family and love of being a Marine.
“He had an infectious smile and he constantly lifted our spirits,” said 30-year-old Cpl. Marshall R. Collins, a close friend who served alongside Dechen. “Sitting on post with him for long hours was something to look forward to. You could tell how much he loved life and its simple aspects by the stories he told.”
Dechen was from Springfield, Vt., and served as an infantryman in 4th Platoon, C Company.
Roommates and those who knew him well remembered Dechen’s strong passion and interest in Corvette automobiles.
“He would try to convince me that the Auto Trader magazine was the best piece of literature ever published,” said Collins, from West Hartford, Conn.
“The day before that unforgettable day, he received a package and informed us that it was his birthday package – stuffed balloons from his mother and a book, a Corvette book,” said Lance Cpl. Frederick D. Lohse, a 19-year-old from Ridgefield, Conn. “We all hit the rack and he left the room so that we could sleep and a few hours later he came in after soaking up his need-to-know knowledge.”
The battalion honored Dechen with a memorial of a helmet sitting on top of a rifle and with identification tags hanging. Below was an empty pair of combat boots. Marines spoke about memories of their fallen brother and one by one paid their last respects in front of his memorial.
“I never thought the day would come that Kurt would leave us for good,” said Cpl. John J. Sheehan, a 22-year-old machine gunner from Somers, Conn. “He was an awesome guy, a good Marine and my best friend. I will never forget the memories I have of Kurt and he will certainly not be forgotten by anyone of us. We miss you and love you ‘Dech.’ Thanks for everything that you have given us."
Dechen reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., for basic training in October 2002. Upon graduation of the Infantry Training Battalion at Camp Geiger, N.C., in 2003, he obtained the military occupational specialty of 0351, assaultman. He reported to C Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division in 2003 where he served as an assistant gunner and as a team leader. In December, 2005, he volunteered to deploy with his unit in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Iraqi Campaign Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.
“We lost a warrior,” said Ward, a 37-year-old from Arlington, Va. “We will honor our fallen brother with the honorable actions that we take each day. We will continue our mission as if Lance Cpl. Dechen is on our side, providing overwatch.”