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March 28, 2003
 
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Some Marines Missing in Action in Iraq
Biographies of Some of the Marines Missing in Action in Iraq

The Associated Press


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March 28

Some of the U.S. Marines reported missing by the Defense Department. The Pentagon said the soldiers haven't been seen since a battle Sunday near the southern Iraq town of Nasiriyah; seven are stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. and one at nearby Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station:

Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Blair, 24, of Broken Arrow, Okla.

Blair followed his older brother into the Marines after high school graduation in Broken Arrow, a sprawling Tulsa suburb with a strong military commitment.

Of about 1,000 students in Blair's 1997 class at Broken Arrow High School, about 30 are active in the military.

"This community is very patriotic, certainly pro-military, and everyone is thinking about the soldiers, certainly those missing in action," said Keith Isbell, a school spokesman.

Blair returned to the United States in October after a two-year deployment in Okinawa, Japan. He left for the Persian Gulf on Jan. 10.

His older brother, Alfred Blair, 29, is a Marine staff sergeant who has not been deployed to Iraq.

"Our prayers go out for Thomas' safe return," Alfred Blair said in an e-mail to the Tulsa World.

Pfc. Tamario D. Burkett, 21, of Buffalo, N.Y.

Burkett is the oldest of Raymond and Brenda Wilson's seven children, and family members say he is a poet, an artist and a big brother who asked his mother whether God would forgive him if he had to kill someone in combat.

"You gotta be hopeful. That's all you can do is hope and pray and know that everything's in God's hands," said his father, Raymond Wilson.

Burkett's letters home have had a special note for each of his six younger siblings, ages 1 to 18. Katrina, 15, should stay away from boys and 18-year-old Raymond should focus on school, he wrote.

As he prepared for combat, Burkett didn't worry about his own safety, said his mother, Brenda Wilson. "He said, 'Ma, God is going to forgive me if I kill someone over there? I said, 'Yes, you're doing what you have to do.'"

Brenda Wilson said her phone has been ringing nonstop with calls of support, but no news on the whereabouts of her oldest child.

"I'm praying with each ring it could be someone saying, 'We have your baby we found him. He's on his way home,'" she said.

Cpl. Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, 22, Waterford, Conn.

Chanawongse enlisted shortly after graduating from Waterford High School in 1999 over the objections of his mother, Tan Patchem.

"It's tough, but we know he loved to be in that uniform," she said. "He loved being a Marine. I'm his mom. He's my baby. I felt like, 'Can he do it?' I know the Marines are tough, but he understood that.

"I'm glad I didn't stop him," she added.

Chanawongse, who came to the United States from Thailand at age 9, played youth soccer and planned from a young age to join the military. His grandfather is a veteran of the Thai air force.

He is known to members of his unit as "Chuckles" for his sense of humor, and one friend said the avid snowboarder is talkative and outgoing.

"I've always been kind of reserved around other people," said Steve Cava, 22. "Him, he'll say, `She's cute. I'll be right back.' When we're out, every time you turn around, he's gone talking to somebody."

His mother and stepfather, Paul Patchem, were celebrating the arrival of a two-week-old letter from Chanawongse on Wednesday when a Marine knocked on their door. They immediately thought the worst.

"Actually, it was kind of relieving to know he's just missing," Paul Patchem said. "I have to think positive. His mother and I know this is not happy news, but it's better than it could be."

Lance Cpl. Donald J. Cline Jr., 21, Sparks, Nev.

Two flags one American, the other yellow fly outside the Sun Valley, Nev., home of Cline's 20-year-old wife, Tina.

She said three Marines and a chaplain told her Cline couldn't be found, but she was encouraged because three of his squadron members have been found alive.

"I never prayed so hard that my knuckles turned purple," she said.

The couple attended Reed High School in Sparks, and she gave him a ride to the recruiting station when he enlisted two weeks after graduation in 2000. They were married the next day at the American Legion hall in Sun Valley, where Tina Cline's mother lives north of Reno and where she has been living with their two small sons.

The family has been busy making buttons with Cline's photograph on them and attaching them to yellow ribbons.

Tina Cline said she is trying to stay strong for Dakota, 2 1/2, and Dylan, 7 months: "I just look at my kids and I have to have hope."

Pvt. Jonathan L. Gifford Jr., 30, of Decatur, Ill.

Gifford disappeared following a battle in a sandstorm Sunday, said his father, Jonathan Lee Gifford Sr. The vehicle he was assigned to was found but its crew was gone news that was relayed to the family Wednesday.

Relatives "believe in their son and expect that he will emerge from this ordeal safe and sound," a representative of the American Red Cross said.

Gifford enlisted last year and his duties dealt with ordinance, according to his father. "He'd been talking about joining the Marines for 10 years and decided that is what he wanted to do," his father said.

Pvt. Nolen Ryan Hutchings, 19, of Boiling Springs, S.C.

Hutchings grew up wanting to be a Marine and left for active service in January, said his father, Larry Hutchings.

Late Thursday, Larry Hutchings told his wife, Carolyn, he didn't doubt that his son will be found safe.

"I put Carolyn to bed and told her they'll look for our son and find him somewhere behind a sand dune," he said.

Lance Cpl. Patrick R. Nixon, 21, of Gallatin, Tenn.

Debra Nixon knows her youngest son, Patrick, is a grown man, but he'll always be her baby. "I just want to hold him in my arms and just never let go," she said through tears.

Patrick Nixon enlisted with two friends while he was still in high school and went to basic training that summer.

"He joined the Marines to defend his country," his mother said. "He didn't want to talk about getting married or settling down or anything right now, that's what he wanted."

Military service is a tradition in Nixon's family. Relatives have served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. His father is a Vietnam veteran and his two older brothers are veterans.

"He's a very strong and determined young man," said his father, David Nixon.

It has been several weeks since they heard from their son. Just as his father was about to send some smokeless tobacco to Spain for his son's stopover en route to the Middle East, the Marine called and said not to bother.

"He said, 'Dad, we're well past Spain.' And I said 'Where are you?' He said, 'Dad, I can't tell you.'"

Lance Cpl. Michael J. Williams, 31, of Phoenix

Williams gave up his flooring business to join the military after the Sept. 11 attacks. "After 9/11, he just wanted to do something, to be part of something" said Heather Strange, his fiancee.

Williams' mother, Sandy Watson, called the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Williams a "big teddy bear."

"There's a lot of people praying for him," Watson said. "People at church and at work. With all that prayer behind him, how could he not be all right?"

At 31, Williams is a full 10 years older than the rest of his unit. Strange said fellow Marines nicknamed him "Omar," short for "Old Man River."

The jabs don't bother him though, Strange said.

"He's a very determined person. He's very committed. He does not give up for anything, no matter what," she said. "He was very proud to be able to do what he was doing."

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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