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Marine Corps holds memorial service for service members killed in AAV accident

Service members and families gathered Friday to pay tribute to nine fallen service members of Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. (Sgt. Desiree King/Marine Corps)

On Friday Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit along with the families of nine service members killed July 30 in an amphibious assault vehicle accident gathered at Camp Pendleton, California, for a memorial service.

During the ceremony an honor guard of Marines laid battlefield crosses honoring their fallen brothers next to a placard and wreath for each lost service member.

“I think you’ll have an opportunity this morning to interact with and meet some of the men and women that knew your husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers better than anyone, other than yourselves,” Col. Christopher J. Bronzi, commanding officer of the 15th MEU, said during the opening remarks.

“As we experience this deep sadness at the loss of our brothers, I remain confident that the days ahead are shot through with hope – hope because men like them had the courage, the fortitude and the commitment to train for and dedicate their lives in defense of this great nation,” he added.

The troops were killed when their amphibious assault vehicle sank while returning from a training raid at San Clemente Island, California, with 15 Marines and one sailor on board.

Half the service members were able to escape before the vehicle sank; one of the Marines who escaped was pronounced dead on the scene.

Two more Marines were sent to the hospital for injuries they sustained during the accident, but have since been released, 1st Lt. Brian Tuthill, a spokesman for the I Marine Expeditionary Force, told Marine Corps Times Wednesday.

Seven other Marines and one sailor were trapped in the vehicle as it sank. Their remains were recovered Aug. 7 with the AAV.

The names of the service members who died were:

—Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, California.

—Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California.

—Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

—Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class (Fleet Marine Force) Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California.

—Lance Cpl. Jack-Ryan Ostrovsky, 20, of Bend, Oregon.

—Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 19, of New Braunfels, Texas.

—Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 22, of Harris, Texas.

—Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 18, of Portland, Oregon.

—Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California.

Lt. Col. Michael Regnar, the commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, the unit where all the service members were assigned, during the ceremony fought back tears for the fallen Marines in his command.

He noted that Gnem was sometimes considered “too much of a Marine,” then praised Villanueva’s “quick wit” and “biggest brother style of leadership,” while Ostrovsky was “a guy who’d seek you out while you were struggling,” with a “kind word and a smile.”

“We look to them because we need that courage to face future challenges, and we take comfort to know that that path of courage is lit by the flame that each one of these heroes has lit in our hearts,” Regnar said during his eulogy.

The ceremony ended when Bravo Company 1/4 1st Sgt. Daniel Jacobson called the names of the fallen Marines one last time, before an honor guard fired the three volley salute and a Marine band played “Taps.”

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