KAILUA, Hawaii – A sudden and painful reminder of the war in Iraq hit this state with word that 27 Marines from one base had been killed in the worst loss of Hawaii-based troops since Pearl Harbor (search).
All but three of the 30 Marines and one sailor killed when a helicopter crashed Wednesday in a desert sandstorm had been deployed from the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay (search), according to Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.
"We are particularly feeling the effects of the war in Hawaii," Akaka said in a statement from his Washington office. "My heartfelt thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies go to the families of each Marine."
The crash shook the Windward Oahu community near the base as residents awaited the names of the dead. "Your heart just sinks," said Bobbie Jerome, 34, whose Marine husband has not been deployed to Iraq.
The Kaneohe Bay base is under the operational control of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, Calif. Some of the victims also were based in San Diego (search).
While the Marines come from hometowns across America, no single military attack or accident stands out as hitting Hawaii harder since the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that left 2,390 people dead and 1,178 wounded.
"That's a tragic story for everybody here," Bob Reeve, 71, a retiree who lives near the Kaneohe base, said after hearing the news. "We like our military here. It's going to be a sad thing."
The crash dramatically increased the death toll of servicemen with Hawaii ties in Iraq and Afghanistan to 78, including 43 Marines from the Kaneohe base.
Lance Cpl. Tony Hernandez, 22, of Canyon Lake, Texas, was among the dead. Initially rejected by the Marines because he was too heavy, Hernandez eventually ran and dieted to trim off nearly 25 pounds to get admitted.
Family members Wednesday took turns holding a framed photo of Hernandez in his uniform. "I just look at the picture and I can't believe it happened," said Leroy Hernandez, the Marine's father. "I just wish we could get those kids out of there."
In Oceanside, Amber Warlock, 31, a former Marine whose husband is a Marine pilot currently stationed at Camp Pendleton, said she was stunned when she heard about the crash on television.
"You hear about people dying every day in ones and twos," she said. "But 31 is just too much to comprehend."
Warlock sought solace at the beach with her 5-month-old daughter, Heidi, and a fellow Marine wife who cried at news of the deaths, even though she had confirmed her husband was OK in Iraq.
"You just know how every single woman sitting in her home feels, whether it's going to be yours or someone you know," Warlock said. "It doesn't matter who it is. It's a bad day for everybody."
Back in Kailua, Lee Bowman, 25, a Navy medic who served in Iraq last year, said of the victims: "My heart goes out to them. I feel it's going to be hard to replace them."
As word of the crash reached this town next to the Marine base, at least one said the tragedy would bring people in the military community together.
"It's a unity building thing," said Margaret Franks, 52, a substance abuse counselor from Kailua, "but I hate to have this tragic thing be the cause for us to be more united."