Sgt. Mark T. Smykowski
23, of Mentor, Ohio; assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; killed June 6 while conducting combat operations in Zaidon, Iraq.
Memorial service for Marine held in mom’s front yard
EUCLID, Ohio — A service for a Marine killed in Iraq last week was held in his mother’s front yard, where about 60 friends and neighbors gathered to honor Sgt. Mark Smykowski.
His brothers, fellow Marines Darren and Kenny Smykowski, saluted as an American flag was raised and then lowered to half-staff during the memorial Tuesday in this Cleveland suburb.
Their 23-year-old brother was killed June 6 when a roadside bomb struck his armored Humvee. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
“This is the saddest day in my life but also the proudest,” Smykowski’s mother, Diana Ross, told the crowd gathered on her lawn. “My son’s death was not in vain. No Marines’ deaths are in vain.”
Some came to pay their respects even though they did not know Smykowski, who was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” said Frank Montana, 85, a World War II veteran.
Smykowski joined the Marines with a group of six friends from his high school in Mentor, including his brother Darren. Kenny Smykowski followed them into the military last summer.
— The Associated Press / Information from: The Plain Dealer
Member of 'Mentor Seven' dies in Iraq
It was brotherhood, said Brian Halan.
This week, the group that has come to be known as the Mentor Seven lost a brother.
U.S. Marine Sergeant Mark T. Smykowski, 23, was killed Tuesday while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province in Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
"Mark died protecting us," Halan said. "He was a truly all-around amazing person."
Halan returned to Mentor High Thursday along with Matthew Neath and their hockey coach, Jack Smeltz, to remember the fallen Marine. Halan and Neath recently finished their active duty as U.S. Marine sergeants.
Smykowski's family members were not immediately available for comment on Thursday.
Halan, Smykowski and Neath went to Parris Island, South Carolina, for boot camp after they graduated in 2000.
Smykowski's brother, Darren; Neath's brother, Nathan; and Joseph Lorek and Nicholas Psenicnik went into the Marines in July 2002.
Smykowski chose to become a reconnaissance man, one of the most difficult jobs in the military service.
Among other things, reconnaissance involves scout swimming; small-boat operations; close combat skills; helicopter and submarine insertion and extraction techniques; and assault climbing.
"His heart was huge," Neath said of Smykowski.
"He was an example of what a young person should be as far as appreciation of freedom and all it stands for," said Smeltz, who coached the six group members who played hockey.
And if a Marine Corps recruiting office ever needed a poster boy for what a Marine is supposed to be, Smykowski would make a perfect fit, Halan said.
Joining the Marine Corps was something they all wanted to do, Neath said.
"I don't think any one of us thought we'd be coming home without the other," Neath said.
Halan first received the news that Smykowski had been killed on Tuesday.
"I called Matt and within a matter of an hour, everyone knew about it," Halan said.
"But I was still hoping it was just a bad joke. I still didn't want to believe it."
As Halan and Neath spread the word to their own family members, the brotherhood that the group shared became even more evident.
"We're all sons and they are all parents," Halan said of the tightness of each of the seven families. "My mom feels like she lost a son."
As he sat alongside Neath and Smeltz, Halan recalled the last time he saw Smykowski.
It was on St. Patrick's Day in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where Halan and his girlfriend plan to settle after they get married.
"He had met my girlfriend and asked if we were getting married," Halan said. "I said that I wanted him in my wedding and he said, 'I don't know, I'm really busy.'"
As Halan conveyed how important it was to him that Smykowski be in his wedding, Smykowski agreed.
Now, Halan is preparing for Smykowski's funeral.
While details have yet to be released, Halan said he is already making plans to head to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
"Come hell or high water, I'm going to Arlington," Halan said. "I'm not going to miss that."
The rest of the Mentor Seven are either serving stateside or finished with their service as well, Halan said.
Halan and Neath say they will remember the good times they had with Smykowski.
"I'm going to remember him the best way I can," Halan said.
"I want to put a flag up at the first house I buy and look up at it every day to remember. It's not just cloth and string. When I see a flag, I see Mark."
A Cleveland neighborhood is showing its colors in tribute to the Mentor Marine killed by a car bomb in Iraq this week.
At Mark's mother's home there are flags, a marine corps banner over the door and, in a window, a banner with the three stars indicating her three sons in the marine corps.
The young marine's body will be returned here for a memorial service and then burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
Family learns Mark Smykowski recently accomplished his goal of saving someone else's life.
As friends and family remember U.S. Marine Sergeant Mark T. Smykowski, his mother hopes they focus on all the good that her son accomplished in his life.
"Mark achieved things that it takes people a lifetime to achieve," said Smykowski's mother, Diana Ross of Euclid.
Smykowski, 23, of Mentor, died Tuesday during combat operations in Al Anbar province in Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
"If there is anything I'm grieving about, it's what I'm going to miss in the future," Ross said.
"The opportunity to see him with his own children, his wedding; things a mother fantasizes about what her son would get to do - that's what we grieve about."
Smykowski will be laid to rest June 20,2006, at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia because "it was something we felt he would want," said Ken Ross, Smykowski's stepfather.
"We're all very proud of him," Ken Ross said.
One of the positive memories Diana Ross will have when she thinks of her son is the accomplishment of a goal he had recently told her about: He wanted to save another person's life.
"Just recently, he volunteered for special training in case there was a casualty or somebody got hurt," she said. "I said, 'Yeah, I could picture that. Maybe you should do that when you get out of the Marine Corps.' One of the grieving days I had, I thought of my son and that he'd never get to experience one of the things he wanted to do."
But Friday, the Rosses learned that Smykowski had indeed saved the life of a fellow Marine in Iraq.
"He was able to use that class he took," Diana said.
She will also remember the way her son related so well to all people, including some of the children in Iraq.
The family has created the Sergeant Mark T. Smykowski Memorial Fund, to which contributions can be made at any area National City Bank.
While the specific purpose of the fund has not been finalized, Diana said children in situations such as those her son helped are the most likely beneficiary.
And despite the feelings of loss and pain the family is now going through, Diana said they stand firmly behind the soldiers and their mission in Iraq.
"The things we're doing there, we just have to have patience," she said. "We have to undo what terrible people have done to them. The Iraqis are good people, and we just have to build their trust in us. We are going to be there with these young kids. It isn't going to be a short mission. It's going to take a lot of patience.