Mark T. Smykowski
Sergeant, United States Marine Corps
RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
No. 521-06 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 08, 2006
Media Contact: Marine Corps Public Affairs - (703) 614-4309 Public/Industry(703)428-0711
DoD Identifies Marine Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Sergeant Mark T. Smykowski, 23, of Mentor, Ohio, died June 6, 2006, while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Media with questions about this Marine can call the 2nd Marine Division Public Affairs Office at (910) 451-9033.
8 Jun 2006:
A Marine from the East Coast’s largest Marine base was killed in combat in Iraq this week, the Pentagon said Thursday. Sergeant Mark T. Smykowski, 23, of Mentor, Ohio, died Tuesday in Iraq’s restive Anbar province. He was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune. He specialized in reconnaissance work, said Second Lieutenant Shawn Mercer.
Smykowski joined the Marines in August 2000 and his unit in November 2002. His awards include the Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, and the Iraqi Campaign Medal, Mercer said.
9 June 2006:
Member of 'Mentor Seven' dies in Iraq
The bond shared by a group of Mentor High School graduates who played high school hockey together, then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps together, was much deeper than simple friendship.
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.
Mark T. Smykowski's mother lives in the Noble Beach area of Euclid.
Neighbors have put out American flags on their lawns for as far as the eye can see.
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.
Memorial for slain Marine held in mother’s front yard
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
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 Sergeant 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, 2006, 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, North Carolina.
“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.
Procession brings Mentor Marine to Willoughby Hills for funeral
16 June 2006
Courtesy of the News Herald
As he waited Thursday for the procession carrying the casket of U.S. Marine Sergeant Mark T. Smykowski, Pastor Tim Davis reflected on Smykowski's commitment to his country.
"He's a gentleman who loved his country and really believed in what he did," said Davis, one of the leaders of Willoughby Hills Evangelical Friends Church, 2846 SOM Center Road.
Shortly after Thursday's morning turned to afternoon under a bright blue sky, the blinking lights atop several police cruisers became visible, and the motorcade arrived at the church following its 45-minute journey from Middleburg Heights.
Police and safety forces from across Northeast Ohio took part in the procession, which was greeted by American flags posted along Route 91.
Smykowski, 23, of Mentor, was killed in combat
June 6 in Iraq. The 2000 graduate of Mentor High School was part of the
"Mentor Seven," a group of Mentor graduates who joined the Marines together
over a two-year period.
Willoughby Hills police were expecting heavy traffic in and out of the church Thursday and today as friends, family, fellow military personnel and others pay their respects to Smykowski.
The casket was to return Thursday night to A. Ripepi and Sons Funeral Home in Middleburg Heights before being brought back today to Willoughby Hills.
Visiting hours today are scheduled for 3 to 6 p.m., and the funeral service is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Rudy Baitt of Eastlake and Charlie Bauer of Mayfield Village each spent time in the U.S. Marine Corps, and both are currently active in the Lake County Marine Corps League.
They met Smykowski through that group last summer.
"They were gung-ho kids," Bauer said of Smykowski and his fellow reconnaissance soldiers. "But they were down to earth and very dedicated."
Debbie Michaels of Cleveland was moved to witness Thursday's proceedings in part to ensure Smykowski was given the same respect that her father, who served 40 years in the U.S. Navy, received.
"I feel they all deserve the same respect and honor," Michaels said.
Others at the church chose to view the procession's arrival in silent remembrance, each with a small American flag waving in their hand.
Davis spoke about the bond between Smykowski and the other members of the Mentor Seven.
"They were not just in it to get their education paid for," Davis said.
"He served his time. ... I hope people understand what it takes to have freedom in this country."
Smykowski's final resting place will be Arlington
National Cemetery in Virginia. The casket will leave the funeral home Monday
morning and be flown to Arlington for full military burial honors, scheduled
for 9 a.m. Tuesday. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to
the Sgt. Mark T. Smykowski Memorial Fund at any area National City Bank.
As mourners waited to pay their respects to Marine Sergeant Mark Smykowski's family, they looked at pictures that represented Smykowski: family, hockey, friends and the Marine Corps.
"He believed in what he was doing. He loved the Iraqi children and they loved him," Laura Karley, Smykowski's aunt, said as she re ferred to several pic tures showing her nephew, who was killed June 6 in Iraq, sitting with Iraqi chil dren.
More than 1,000 family members, friends, Marines, and even a few strangers gathered in Willoughby Hills Friends Church Friday evening to honor the sacrifice and the memory of a fallen Marine.
"He was just 23," said Chloe Soltis, his 6-year-old cousin. "It's not fair."
Smykowski, who was assigned to the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, was killed by a roadside bomb outside Fallujah.
"You became a better man than I could have prayed you'd ever be," said his mother, Diana Ross, in a poem she prepared for the service. "Fighting for what you believed in -- such a strong and brave Marine."
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Brown, who awarded Smykowski a Purple Heart, presented the medal to brothers Darren and Kenny Smykowski, who are also both Marines.
"I just want him to know that what he did over there wasn't in vain," Bert Smykowski, his father, said Wednesday.
After the service, mourners lined the driveway leading out of the church where two firetruck cranes held up an American flag. Cleveland Police Department, the Marine Corps Rolling Thunder, and police motorcycles from several departments across Northeast Ohio followed behind the hearse that carried Smykowski's flag-draped casket.
But inside the hearse, Smykowski was not alone.
Sergeant Nathaniel Cook, who served in Smykowski's unit in Iraq, escorted his friend home from Iraq and made it his vow to stay by his side until Smykowski got to Arlington National Cemetery.
Others have made that same vow.
The remaining members of the "Mentor Seven," who skated on the high school hockey team and entered the Marine Corps together with Smykowski, saluted their friend as the hearse began the procession. They will also travel to Arlington.
Smykowski will be buried at Arlington National
Cemetery on Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Diana Ross was angry when her son signed up for a second tour of duty with the Marines in Iraq. He was a trained sniper and paratrooper and served in a reconnaissance battalion, on the front lines every day searching for insurgents. As a Christian, she worried about the killing. As a mother, she feared for his life. "I need to know," she demanded when she called him on the phone, "exactly what is the plan over there?"
Sergeant Mark T. Smykowski hushed his buddies on his end of the line. "This mission is going to take us years, Mom," she recalls him answering quietly. "These people have been brutalized for years. We have to work with the children. We have to get the kids to trust us."
It was a life-changing moment, she said. "It was the first time I spoke to him as a man."
It would also be one of the last.
Smykowski, a member of the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, was killed June 6, 2006, in Anbar province when a roadside bomb struck his armored Humvee, military officials said. He was 23.
Yesterday, amid a rifle volley and taps and surrounded by friends and family who had rented a bus to come from Ohio, Smykowski was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Two American flags were presented to Ross and to Mark's father, her ex-husband, Herbert Smykowski. The father hugged the flag to his chest and hung his head.
Growing up, Smykowski was a good-looking guy, his mother said, and he knew it. "He was full of himself," she chuckled. One day in his senior year in high school, at a college and career fair in Mentor, Ohio, Ross watched the erect bearing of two Marine recruiters. "Couldn't you just picture Mark in that uniform," she joked to her husband. By the time they got to the table, he'd signed up.
After boot camp, he got endless ribbing from his younger brothers when he was chosen to be a model for the Marines. Soon, he was off to special training courses and classified combat missions. He and a friend inspired their younger brothers and friends to join the military. They became known as the "Mentor Seven." All but one came to the funeral yesterday.
In Iraq, the children called him "Mr. Ski." He became an ambassador of sorts to the locals. "His unit would laugh that Mark's name would be on the ballot during the local elections," Ross said. Recently, he had been distributing toys and clothes to Iraqi children, she said.
"He was loving and easygoing," Ross said. "I have all these pictures with his arms around Iraqis. There was one where he had 25 kids all around him."
Ross spoke with her son for the last time nine days before he died. He was telling her how bad things had gotten. "Mark," she remembered asking him, "are you scared?"
"Uh, yeah," he said sarcastically. She tried to bolster his confidence. Then she asked, "Mark, are you okay with God?"
"Mom, you don't have to worry," he said. "I'm good to go with God."
At his funeral in Ohio, at Ross's Willoughby Hills Evangelical Friends Church, the pastor spoke of Gideon, the biblical warrior who, because he trusted God, conquered 120,000 Midianites with 300 men. The congregation read Psalm 23, about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.
Afterward, young men approached Ross, soldiers she knew had seen dark and troubling things. They asked whether they could do anything for her. "Yes," she said. "Live like there's no tomorrow. Make your mother proud. So if something happened tomorrow, you'll have no regrets."
That's how her son had lived.
Hubert Smykowski, left, the father of Marine Sergeant Mark Smykowski, fights back tears as 'Taps' is
played for his son at Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Posted: 10 June 2006 Updated: 14 June 2006 Updated: 16 June 2006 Updated: 17 June 2006 Updated: 20 June 2006 Updated: 21 June 2006 Updated: 27 August 2006 Updated: 4 November 2006 Updated: 7 June 2007 Updated: 1 September 2007 Updated: 19 June 2008
Photo Courtesy of Holly, November 2006
Photo Courtesy of Holly, August 2006
Photo Courtesy of Holly, July 2006