MISSISSIPPI — A painter who loved to fly, a father who married his high school sweetheart, and a former football star who was living out his dream of being in the Navy. These were among the 16 service members killed in Monday’s military plane crash in Mississippi, about 100 miles north of Jackson. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
In a somber procession Friday, 16 white hearses drove silently down a tree-lined street carrying the service members to the Air National Guard Base in Jackson.
“On behalf of the Marine Corps Reserve, I extend my deepest sympathies to the loved ones of those who perished… the Marines and sailor involved in this incident were among our finest,” said Lt. Gen. Rex C. McMillian in a statement. “They dedicated their lives to our core values of honor, courage and commitment. They will never be forgotten.”
The Marine Corps on Friday identified the 15 Marines and one sailor who were killed in the crash.
Two joined the Marines more than 23 years ago, some others served for less than two years. Several had overlapping tours of duty in Afghanistan. All of them were highly decorated, with the awards and medals to show for it.
“Do me a favor,” Lynda Kundrat, the mother of one of the victims, told CNN. “Tell their story. All of their stories. Tell the stories of the brother Marines that are on the crash site combing for every piece of every person on that plane.”
Here are their stories, based on information released by the Marine Corps, reports from CNN affiliates as well as interviews with family members and friends.
Cpl. Dan Baldassare, from Colts Neck, New Jersey, joined the Marine Corps less than two years ago.
“Dan told us in about middle school that he wanted to become a Marine,” his friend Ryan McGowan told CNN affiliate WPIX. McGowan said he played football with Baldassare.
“He actually would bring military gloves to football practice and play with them,” McGowan said. “He was a patriot and all he wanted to do was serve our country.”
“We are forever grateful for his service,” read a tweet from the Monmouth County government.
Staff Sgt. Robert H. Cox, from Ventura, California, would have celebrated his tenth anniversary with the Marine Corps this month, according to the military.
He had been deployed several times to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The critical skills operator was stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Capt. Sean E. Elliott, from Orange county, California, joined the Marines eight years ago.
His parents say he was enamored with aircraft and the military.
His father, John Elliott, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Sean got a model C-130 plane as a Christmas gift when he was four.
“He kept taking it with him to bed,” his father told the newspaper. “He slept with it like you would a teddy bear. A big plane, in the bed. A silly plastic thing, with the toy soldiers inside. It went to bed with him every night for quite a long time.”
He leaves behind his wife Catherine, and his family in San Juan Capistrano.
Maj. Caine M. Goyette was the highest-ranking Marine on the flight. He was the KC-130 aircraft commander. He joined the Marine Corps in 1994. During his time in the Corps, he was deployed overseas several times, most recently in 2014.
Mark A. Hopkins was a married father of three young children who lived in New York.
Hopkins joined the Marines when he was 18, on September 4, 2001, just days before the terror attack.
The 34-year-old gunnery sergeant had been married for three years; he leaves behind 2-year-old, a 1-year-old and an infant who is just four months old.
Hopkins was called creative, compassionate and genuine. He was deeply religious, according to a family statement posted on the website of Goodwill Church in Montgomery, New York.
“He is most known for his unforgettable, radiant smile,” the statement reads. “He was always happy and had a welcoming presence about him. He had a knack for always bringing out the best in others.”
Hopkins was born in Michigan and raised in Chesapeake, Virginia.
He is survived by his mother; three siblings; his wife, Patricia; and his children.
Sgt. Chad E. Jenson, from Los Angeles, enlisted in September of 2010. He was a member of the special operations 2nd Raider Battalion and was awaiting his first deployment. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune as a critical skills operator.
Gunnery Sgt. Brendan C. Johnson once told his dad, “I got the best job in the Marine Corps.” Johnson was a loadmaster, helping to manage the cargo in the back of the planes.
After graduating from Johnson State College in Vermont, he joined the Marine Corps in 1994. Throughout his career he flew to Europe, Africa, and South Asia, as well as active war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I’d much rather be flying than doing excel spreadsheets,” he told his father.
Despite his busy schedule, he still found time for his passion of fine art, painting portraits of retired military families in his spare time. Johnson was married and most recently living with his wife in New York. They did not have any kids. He was planning on retiring from the military next year.
Sgt. Julian Kevianne, 31, enlisted in December 2009. He had been deployed overseas most recently from November 2012 to March 2013.
His cousin told the Detroit News that Kevianne talked about joining the military when they were kids.
“He was a great brother, son and friend,” John Allen told the newspaper. “And I know he would have been a great father to his [infant] child. It saddens me and my family he’s gone.”
Staff Sgt. William Joseph Kundrat, 33, was the son of a Marine, but as his mother, Lynda Kundrat, told CNN, “He didn’t follow in his dad’s footsteps, he marked his own path.”
“You breathe every breath you take into your lungs because you are American,” she said. “And with every breath in their body — a Marine will fight for you. My son was one of those Marines. He’s my hero.”
A native of Frederick, Maryland, Kundrat was known to friends and family as Billy Joe.
His mother said he had an infectious smile and was in love with his wife, who was his high school sweetheart. The couple had two children.
“My son was a warrior. My son was trained very well to be a Marine,” Kundrat’s mother said. “These were the elite. These were the cream of the crop. The loss of these 16 people are immense.”
Sgt. Talon R. Leach was from Callaway, Missouri. The military said he was deployed abroad last year as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, which works with regional partners against ISIS. Talon’s father, Tab Leach, told CNN affiliate KRCG his son always put others first.
“He was definitely one to pull for the underdog. If there was a group of people and someone was picking on one kid, that was the kid he would gravitate to and stick up for,” he said.
Leach joined the Marines in 2010. He lived with his wife in North Carolina.
“He’s a fallen warrior, he is a hero,” the elder Leach said.
“Who wouldn’t be proud of their son for the ultimate sacrifice?”
Leach will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.
Sgt. Owen J. Lennon, a native of Rockland County, New York, was part of Operation Enduring Freedom from November 2012 to March 2013.
The Rockland Times reports Lennon, 26, graduated from Ramapo High School in 2008, where he played football and tennis.
Rockland County Executive Ed Day extended his condolences to Lennon’s friends and family, stating, according to the paper, “The loss of Marine Owen Lennon of Pomona reminds us again that freedom is never free … this Marine from Rockland County represented the very best that our young people have to offer.”
Navy Corpsman Ryan Lohrey, 30, a native of Middletown, Indiana, was a medic.
“Ryan served our country with honor and we are grateful for his selfless service,” Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly said in a statement posted to his web page. “He will be missed, and I send my condolences and prayers to his family and friends.”
Lohrey graduated from high school in 2005. He was a football star who was determined to become an elite Navy SEAL. Lohrey’s former high school teacher and football coach, Brent Kinsey, remembered him as standout person.
“One of those kids that you just don’t kind of forget,” Kinsey told CNN affiliate WISH. “He made a great impact on our school community.”
Lohrey’s high school yearbook picture came with the quote, “Live life the fullest you can. You never know when it could end.”
Kinsey said Lohrey did just that.
“He did live life everyday to the fullest. It’s ironic,” he said. “I hope we all do that.”
Sgt. Joseph Murray, 26, joined the Marines in 2009. The Jacksonville resident served two tours in Afghanistan before becoming a special operations Marine based in North Carolina.
“Everyone thinks their family members are special, that’s natural,” Joseph’s father, Terry Murray told CNN affiliate WJXT. “We really think Joseph was very special. He was a wonderful young man of God.”
In a statement to WJXT, Murray’s wife, Gayle, said her husband was a caring father to their four children who always had his priorities straight.
“Everyone knew him as a family man. He would do anything for me and our kids. He loved to play his guitar and ukulele for us. What he wanted most in the world besides our happiness was to destroy evil on this Earth.”
Cpl. Collin J. Schaaff, 22, was an aircraft ordnance technician who joined the Marine Corps in 2013. He was from Pierce, Washington. Collin was flying to a training order so he could be deployed in the next year.
Cpl. Schaaf leaves behind a pregnant wife and a one-year-old daughter. A GoFundMe account has been created to help his family.
Dietrich A. Schmieman was from Benton, Washington, and joined the Marines six years ago.
The critical skills operator did two tours of Afghanistan.
Longtime friend Ashton Davis told the Spokesman-Review that Schmieman was the person who could turn any situation into a fun one. Davis recalled a trip the two took to Europe during which they became stranded in Italy after they lost their train tickets.
“He somehow turned a 24-hour period of being stranded in a foreign place to a fun adventure we would never forget,” Davis told the newspaper.
Schmieman joined the Marines out of a desire to serve, said his former youth pastor Rev. Corey Smith.
“We’re just shocked and deeply saddened,” Smith told the newspaper. “The world lost a good one.”
Texas native Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden was a “positive force” in the lives of everyone he met, his family tells CNN.
In a statement summing up Snowden’s life and personality, the family called him “a dedicated Marine, a steadfast friend, and an honorable man.”
“You always knew when Joshua entered a room, and you always knew when he left,” the family said. “He loved God, his country, his family, and his friends, his enthusiasm for Texas was unmatched.”
According to the Dallas Morning News, Snowden, 31, grew up in Dallas. The paper said he graduated from Highland Park High School in 2004. His mother and sister live in Dallas, the paper said.
He played lacrosse at Texas State University, the school said. He graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in communications, CNN affiliate KEYE reported.
Texas State and the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association mourned his death in tweets.
Family members are proud of Snowden’s years with the Marines.
“We grieve for Joshua and for the fifteen others who leave behind enormous voids in the hearts of their loved ones. To borrow the words of one of his friends, ‘Heaven has gained one hell of an angel.’ “