Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse – Corporal, United States Marine Corps


The Department of Defense announced today that Marine Corporal Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, 22, of Waterford, Conn. was killed in action during operations on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah on March 23.  He had previously been listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown (DUSTWUN).

Chanawongse was assigned to 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

It is written that meritorious deeds will precede a good person before his arrival in the next world.

The meritorious deeds of Marine Corporal Kemaphoom “Ahn” Chanawongse of Waterford, Connecticut, were remembered Monday at a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. The 22-year-old Marine, who died on the battlefield in Iraq March 23, was buried with full military honors during a 30-minute ceremony.

“We, on behalf of the Chanawongse family, the Thai people and the Buddhist communities in the United States, are here today at Arlington National Cemetery for an important ceremony for our brother,” Buddhist Council of the Midwest President Emeritus Chuen Phangcham said as he presided over the Buddhist graveside service.

“He died in the service of his duty for this great country. We are proud of him. Kemaphoom, may your consciousness be born in a good form of life. May all being be free from suffering. May all beings be happy.”

In the Buddhist religion, it is believed that each individual passes through many reincarnations until he or she is liberated from worldly illusions and passions. One enters a new incarnation right after death, ultimately entering nirvana, which is Sanskrit for “blowing out the flame.”

Born in Bangkok, Chanawongse and his family moved to United States when he was 9, settling in Waterford, where he attended school.

A 1999 graduate of Waterford High School, Chanawongse enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, following a family tradition of military service. His grandfather, Charan Pinrode, a group commander in the Royal Thai Air Force, attended the ceremony dressed in his crisp, white, military dress uniform.

The family chose Arlington for Chanwongse's burial to honor him as a hero. He is the 16th casualty of the Iraq war to be buried in Arlington. Another soldier who died in Iraq is scheduled for burial there in two weeks.

In a soft voice, barely audible, Tan Patchem, Chanawongse's mother, thanked her son in a brief, graveside statement for all the love he gave her during his short life.

“I will see you one day,” she said. “I love you.”

Chanawongse was afforded a funeral with standard military honors that included a three-round rifle volley and a bugler playing “Taps.”

As was the memorial service at Waterford High School Sunday, when more than 700 attended to bid farewell to a hometown hero, it was a dignified and moving ceremony.

On Monday, about 100 people attended the service, including family members, a delegation from Waterford, representatives from the Thai Embassy in Washington and representatives of Connecticut's political delegation.

“I am very proud to have him as a son,” Paul Patchem, Chanawongse's stepfather, said.

After the military honors, the casket was removed and returned to a local funeral home, where the remains will be cremated and then returned to Arlington on Wednesday for a private family interment.

There are more than 280,000 servicemen and their family members buried in Arlington, representing every war America has fought. Arlington's 624 acres of green rolling slopes is in Virginia, across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

There are about 24 funerals conducted every weekday at Arlington.

Prior to Chanawongse's burial, a Buddhist service was held at a Washington funeral home. A traditional Thai Buddhist ceremony has up to three parts of the funeral service, each lasting about 45 minutes. The three components of any Buddhist funeral ceremony are: sharing; the practice of good conduct; and developing a calm mind, or meditation.

The family will remain in Washington, where additional services will be held at a Thai temple during the next three days.

Buddhist Rites, Military Ritual Honor Marine
Thai Immigrant Ambushed in Iraq
Courtesy of the Washington Post, 29 April 2003


At Arlington National Cemetery, Brigadier General Mastin Robeson presents an American flag to Anutarapon Patchem, mother of Kemaphoom Chanawongse, a 22-year-old Marine corporal who died March 23 in Nasiriyah.

Seven monks swathed in saffron robes padded onto the moist grounds of Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, followed by six uniformed Marines in crisper pace bearing the coffin of a fallen comrade.

Even in death, Kemaphoom Chanawongse, 22, straddled two worlds — the Thailand he left when he was 9 and the America he ultimately gave his life for. The corporal died in Iraq March 23, 2003, in an ambush outside Nasiriyah.

Friends and family called him “Ahn.” His fellow Marines called him “Chuckles,” for his sense of humor and love of laughter. Chanawongse's last letter home still brings a smile to his elder brother's face, albeit through tears.

In a letter dated March 13 from Kuwait, where Chanawongse served with the 1st Marine Division, he joked about the art of playing baseball with a stick. He said his camp reminded him of the sitcom “M*A*S*H,” although he preferred MAHTSF, for “Marines Are Here to Stay Forever.”

As he stroked his brother's coffin yesterday, Kemapasse Chanawongse spoke directly to him for what he said would be the last time: “Ahn, I love you. I am proud of you.”

The ceremony was held at the grave where Kemaphoom Chanawongse's urn will be buried after his body is cremated today at a Silver Spring temple. It was the 16th funeral at Arlington for a casualty of the war in Iraq. Again there was a three-rifle volley in final salute, mournful strains of taps played by a single bugler and a presentation of a flag, received by Chanawongse's mother, Anutarapon Patchem.

This time, a brief Buddhist ceremony followed, led by Chuen Phangcham of Wat Thai, a temple in Silver Spring. “Take Kemaphoom Chanawongse as our teacher today,” Phangcham told the 60 mourners. “He is teaching us about life and the law of impermanence.”

Chanawongse emigrated from Thailand with his mother and elder brother to Connecticut. “They wanted to be in the land of the free,” his uncle Kim Atkinson said. “They felt like life had to have more than their prospects there.”

His mother worked in a Japanese chain restaurant, then became a part owner. She opened her own Thai restaurant when Chanawongse was in his teens, and he often worked alongside her. Chanawongse's grandfather, a former commander in the Thai Air Force, lived with the family, and he inspired Chanawongse to become a U.S. citizen and enlist in the Marines after Chanawongse graduated from Waterford High School in 1999. Most recently, Chanawongse was assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

After a ceremony Sunday in Connecticut, where Chanawongse's mother received her son's Purple Heart, dozens of family members and high school classmates drove to Arlington for yesterday's funeral, their procession greeted by police at each state crossing.

“I have a knowledge that many of you may come to know,” Chanawongse's stepfather, Paul Patchem, told them at Arlington yesterday. “Ahn is an angel. This is a fact for me.”

Last night, the family gathered at an Alexandria funeral home for additional Buddhist prayers. Today, Chanawongse's body is to be cremated at Wat Thai.

On Wednesday, some of the ashes will be buried at Arlington. The rest, his family said, will be scattered in Thailand.

28 April 2003:

Connecticut Marine Buried in Buddhist Funeral

Surrounded by Marines in crisp blue uniforms, Buddhist monks in flowing orange robes prayed over the casket of Corporal Kemaphoom Chanawongse Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.

Chanawongse, 22, was honored in a rare Buddhist prayer service at the cemetery, a ceremony that celebrated his life and the sacrifice he made in dying last month in a firefight in Iraq.

“Brothers and sisters take Kemaphoom Chanawongse as our teacher today,” said Dr. Chuen Phangcham, president emeritus of the Buddhist Council of the Midwest, shortly after the echoes of the three rifle volleys and Taps faded away. “He is teaching us about life and the law of impermanence to remind us to be mindful in our daily life practice from moment to moment.”

The mingling of military and Buddhist honors has been done before at Arlington, although this was the first in recent memory, according to cemetery staff.

The Marine known as “Ahn” by family and friends, from Waterford, Connecticut, was the 16th servicemember from the Iraqi war to be buried there. And his family is sure that is what he would have wanted.

“If he knew that he would pass away, and if he had a choice — (this) is his choice, I know that,” his mother, Tan Patchem, said after the service. Struggling to keep her voice steady, her son's dog tags still dangling from her neck, Patchem said “everyone knows what Ahn is like and everyone is very proud of him. Everyone has a feeling that, other than sadness — and sadness is still there — but more than sadness, we're proud.”

Chanawongse and other members of his unit — the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina — were declared missing in action on March 23 after a firefight near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. Three weeks later, his family was told he and six other Marines were killed in an ambush.

On Monday, his brother Kemapasse stood at the gravesite and talked about Chanawongse's bravery. “He was ready to go. … There was no fear in his heart,” he said, then turning to the casket, added, “Ahn, I love you, I'm very proud of you.”

Chanawongse was an American citizen who came to the United States from Thailand at age 2. He graduated from Waterford High School in 1999, but put his college aspirations on hold to join the Marines.


Buddhist Monks escort a Marine honor guard carrying the casket
of Marine Corporal Kemaphoom Chanawongse, of Waterford, Connecticut,
during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington,
Virginia, Monday, April 28, 2003. Chanawongse was killed on March 23, 2003,
during operations on the outskirts of Nasiriyah, Iraq. For the first time in memory,
a Buddhist monk is presiding over an Arlington National Cemetery burial ceremony


Buddhist Monks pray during funeral services for Marine Corporal
Kemaphoom Chanawongse, of Waterford, Connecticut, Monday, April 28,
2003 at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington


Buddhist monks look on as Anutarapon Patchem, mother of Marine Corporal
Kemaphoom Chanawongse, of Waterford, Connecticut, pauses over the casket
during funeral services at Arlington National Cemetery


More than 100 people attended a funeral service for Marine
Corporal Kemaphoom Chanawongse of Waterford in Arlington
National Cemetery outside Washington Monday. Chanawongse was
killed in battle in Iraq. It was the first-ever Buddhist
ceremony held in the cemetery


Tan Patchem, mother of Kemaphoom Chanawongse, and her
husband, Paul Patchem, pay their final respects at her son's grave

28 April 2003:

WATERFORD, Connecticut — Kemaphoom “Ahn” Chanawongse was just a normal kid, according to his brother, Kemapasse, determined to fulfill his dreams and impossible to stop once he set his mind on something.

“He loved being a Marine. He loved being in the uniform,” Kemapasse Chanawongse said in delivering the family eulogy at Sunday's memorial service at Waterford High School.

“I thank you for the 22 years of happiness and experiences that you shared with me,” Chanawongse said in a tribute to his younger brother. “I will never forget you.”

More than 700 people, friends and family, dignitaries and some who did not know him but knew only of him, turned out for the service to honor the memory of Kemaphoom Chanawongse, the 22-year-old Marine born in Thailand and raised in Waterford since he was 9 years old.

He joined the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating from Waterford High School in 1999 and died in battle March 23 in Nasiriyah, Iraq. He will be buried today in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

The solemn and somber ceremony was filled with heartfelt remembrances of the young Marine and with the military honors befitting a fallen warrior.

Throughout the 90-minute service, the attendees stood or sat in silence, many wiping away tears during different parts of the program.

As a tribute, the Waterford High School band played the song “Inchon,” a piece composed by Robert W. Smith in memory of his father, Benjamin Smith, a veteran of both the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War.

“It was a very moving, very touching ceremony,” U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, one of many political leaders attending the services, said.

One of the more touching moments was when Waterford High School music teacher Joan Winters played the Marine Corps hymn on a violin from the auditorium balcony. Two Marines silently descended the auditorium aisles, slowly making their way on stage for the Marine funeral honors. A Marine Corps firing detail, outside the building, could be heard rendering the gun salute. And then two students from the high school band, one offstage and the other in the balcony, played an echoing version of “Taps.”

Marine Captain Brian Anderson presented Anutarapon “Tan” Patchem, Chanawongse's mother, with the folded American flag, the symbol of a grateful nation for the ultimate sacrifice made.

“He was a beacon and a symbol of what is good about America, our local community and a strong family values,” Rear Admiral Robert C. Olsen, superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, said.

Olsen and Anderson also presented Patchem with the Purple Heart, the military medal awarded to those wounded or killed in action, which she then wore on her jacket.

Governor John G. Rowland and Dodd were among the dignitaries attending the service. Rowland and Dodd escorted Patchem and her husband, Paul, to the stage of the high school auditorium at the beginning of the service to light the Torch of Freedom and Memory.

“When we lost a member of our community, we truly lose part of ourself,” Rowland said in his remarks.

“It is said that good can prevail over bad if good is well organized,” he said. “I would add, that is true if good had Ahn on its side. We can never repay the debt. We can show our appreciation as we are today. Ahn is a local hero, a hero in the state of Connecticut and hero to a grateful nation.”

Also attending were state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, state Comptroller Nancy Wyman, representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman and U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, state Rep. Andrea Stillman of Waterford, Waterford First Selectman Paul Eccard and municipal leaders from the region.

At the close of the ceremony, the lights in the auditorium were slowly dimmed so that only the flickering light from the Torch of the Freedom and Memory showed.

“Today we say farewell to a hero and goodbye to a hometown son,” Eccard said. “His spirit is back here with us now, the spirit of a hero has come home.”


Tan Patchem, mother of Marine Cpl. Kemaphoom Chanawongse,
and her husband, Paul Patchem, left, embrace other mourners after a
memorial service at Waterford High School Sunday held in Chanawongse's honor.
He was killed in battle in Iraq


From left, U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Paul Patchem,
Tan Patchem and Gov. John G. Rowland light a Torch of Freedom
and Memory in honor of Tan Patchem's son, Marine Cpl. Kemaphoom Chanawongse.

22 April 2003:

WATERFORD, Connecticut — Tan Patchem first heard of Arlington National Cemetery 40 years ago, as a young child living in Thailand.

She recalled learning of it when President John F. Kennedy was shot and remembered thinking it must be a very special place — a place where America buries its heroes.

Tan, her husband, Paul, and other family members will make their first visit to Arlington next week when they will say their final good-byes to another American hero — her son, Marine Corporal Kemaphoom “Ahn” Chanawongse of Waterford.

The 22-year-old Chanawongse, who was killed in action March 23 near Nasiriyah, Iraq, will be buried with full military honors in Arlington Monday.

“I never dreamed that I could ever step into a place like that,” Tan Patchem said Monday during a news conference announcing details of the funeral and a Sunday memorial service in Waterford. “Arlington is a place for heroes and Ahn is a hero. This is the best place for him to stay. Not only for him, but for me as a mother. It is a great honor.”

The memorial service will take place at noon Sunday at Waterford High School.

“Ahn was a 1999 graduate of Waterford High School, so that is the appropriate gathering place for the community, for this service,” Waterford First Selectman Paul Eccard said. “I urge the community to join with the family in memorializing this Waterford hero. The purpose really is to try and bring together this community in a way where we can all express our grief and the caring of a community that has lost one of its own.”

Eccard said the planning for the memorial service and funeral was made in concert with the family and the Marine Corps.

“(Tan and Paul) have demonstrated great grace, courage and dignity in meeting their responsibilities in helping this community and this nation honor one of their sons,” Eccard said. “The Marine Corps, represented by Captain Brian Anderson, has been wonderful to work with in putting together the town's memorial service.”

The family will leave for Washington immediately after Sunday's memorial service in Waterford. After Monday's burial at Arlington, the family will hold a Thai memorial service at a Buddhist temple in Washington. Chanawongse was born in Thailand and came to the United States at age 8.

The shoreline community rallied around the Patchems last month, when it was first reported that Chanawongse and five other Marines were missing in action after intense firefights around Nasiriyah. Nearly 300 turned out for a candlelight vigil for Chanawongse April 8 at Waterford High School, hoping and praying he would be found and returned home safe.

Last week, 23 days after first being reported as missing, the Patchems were notified his status had been changed from missing to killed in action.

“The support from the community has been great,” Paul Patchem said. “It's been coming from everywhere.”

Two memorial funds have been established. Proceeds from the first will be used to offset expenses for the memorial and funeral with unused money contributed to a Buddhist Temple in Boston. The second fund is for a scholarship for Waterford High School students.

“These funds were established because people in the community have been seeking means of expressing their love for Ahn and his family, and their appreciation of his service to this community and nation,” Eccard said.

Corporal Kemaphoom Chanawongse


Kemaphoom Chanawongse, known to his friends as “Ahn,” came to the USA from Thailand when he was 9. He grew up in Waterford, Connecticut, with his mother and stepfather, played youth soccer and graduated in 1999 from Waterford High School.

Chanawongse was one of the first casualties of the war. He was listed as missing March 23, 2003, during  fierce fighting near the Iraqi town of Nasiriyah. For weeks, his parents and friends held out hope that he would be among the missing who would come home. More than 200 people attended a candlelight vigil and prayed for his safety.

Their hopes died Tuesday when three Marines and a chaplain visited the flag-draped home of his mother and stepfather, Tam. and Paul Patchem. to tell them their son's remains had been  identified.

“Everybody in the community had been praying for his safe return. But it was simply was not to be,” said Representative Rob Simmons, R-Conn., who stayed in close constant touch with the family. “I spoke to them this morning, and his stepfather said that Ahn is now at peace. They were holding out hope, but over the past week-to-ten days they were beginning to realize that the chances of  finding him alive were diminished.”

Chanawongse, 22, had always wanted to be a Marine, his family said. His grandfather was a military man in Thailand.

Before leaving for the Persian Gulf he created a Web site with photographs of himself in his Marine uniform with the caption: “the Thai import with a baby face”

Chanawongse was assigned to 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. On Wednesday, a flag flew over the U.S. Capitol building in his honor.

Simmons said he'll give that flag to the fallen Marine's mother. Flags in Waterford were flying at half-staff for Chanawongse. His parents hope to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery.

16 April 2003:

Connecticut couple whose son had been listed as missing in action in Iraq received the news this week that their son was dead.


Corporal Kemaphoom Chanawongse's remains were positively identified. His parents said that he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“I'm also feeling a lot of pride,” said his father, Paul Patchem. “It's like a treasure just got out of my hand.”

Chanawongse, also known as An, went missing in action March 23 after a firefight near Nasiriyah.

“He finished his life with honor,” said his mother, Tan Patchem. “I'm very proud of him.”

His parents said the 22-year-old loved being a Marine and enjoyed the camaraderie. His nickname said it all.

“Chuck. It's short for Chuckles, because everyone smiled when he was with him,” Paul Patchem said.

The Patchems received a final letter from their son the same day they learned he was missing. He was upbeat and focused.

“To quote him, he said, ‘We're doing what Marines do best, make the best out of the worst,'” his father said.

In that spirit, his family will now honor Chanawongse's life and his service.

“We decided Arlington was the rightful place for him. He's a national hero,” Paul Patchem said. “He went out like a star. This is what he wanted.”

The family is still planning the details of the funeral. They are making arrangements for their son's grandfather, a veteran of the Thai air force, to travel from Thailand for the service, along with his brother.

16 April 2003:

Waterford Marine Reported Killed In Action
Cpl. Kemaphoom “Ahn” Chanawongse Died In Attack Near Nasiriyah

WATERFORD, CONNECTICUT — Military officials on Tuesday informed the parents of a missing 22-year old Marine from Waterford that their son had died in an attack near Nasiriyah more than three weeks ago, ending speculation that he might still be alive.

The Pentagon has not yet announced that Corporal Kemaphoom “Ahn” Chanawongse is dead but in an email sent early Wednesday morning, his parents broke the news to several friends. Chanawongse was killed March 23, 2003, after Iraqis ambushed the amphibious assault vehicle he was driving, in a maneuver to take control of a bridge over the Euphrates River, near the city of Nasiriyah.

“Ahn would want you to know he loves you and wants you to have a fun and happy life as he lived,” wrote Paul and Tan Patchem. “Make the best of every precious moment– a take-off of his words in a letter he wrote in February.”

A detailed report of the incident will be released after a complete investigation has been done, the Patchems were told. Their son's remains are in Delaware. “Ahn will take his place in the Arlington National Cemetery, a place for heroes,” they wrote. “A date has not been set yet.”

The eight Marines from Chanawongse's unit, listed as missing since March 23, have been reclassified as killed in action. Chanawongse, known as “Chuckles” to his fellow Marines, was the last to be identified.

The Patchems have expressed wishes that Chanawongse's grandfather, a former pilot in the Thai Air Force, be flown to the U.S. to attend his funeral, said Waterford First Selectman Paul Eccard. The town is flying its flags at half mast today and has posted a note next to a collage of photographs hanging at Town Hall that their hometown hero had been lost. Eccard said that with the family's permission he would like to hold a memorial service in town, where hundreds of people have offered words of support in recent weeks.

“Now that we know the news is what we had desperately hoped it would not be, we will do everything we can to support the family,” he said.


Khoi Ton/Norwich Bulletin



Tan Pachem led a candlelight vigil for her son, Marine
Corporal Kemaphoom “Ahn” Chanawongse, at Waterford High School.

WATERFORD, Connecticut — Just days after the war with Iraq began, a half dozen U.S. Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade were sent to secure a bridge outside the town of An Nasiriyah when they were ambushed by Iraqi forces.

When the unit failed to return, the six Marines were listed as missing in action. Nearly four weeks later, their bodies were recovered and returned to the United States for burial. Among them was a 22-year-old from Waterford, Marine Corporal Kemaphoom “Ahn” Chanawongse — the first Connecticut casualty of the war.

“He understood it was dangerous,” his mother Tan Pachem said. “And he was proud of doing it.”

Two Marines and six Army soldiers with Connecticut ties have died in Iraq since the start of the war one year ago today. Chanawongse, a 1999 graduate of Waterford High School, is the only one from southeastern Connecticut.

“It's very clear to me, that memory and the sense of loss in this community hasn't gone away,” Waterford First Selectman Paul Eccard said. “Each time we hear of a Connecticut soldier killed — or any American soldier killed — it just brings back the memories of March 23, 2003, when Ahn died.”

Chanawongse's family established a fund in his memory, awarding a $1,000 scholarship to a Waterford High School graduate. The community, Eccard said, has embraced the scholarship as a way of keeping the memory of its local hero alive.

“The intense determination to make sure this scholarship succeeds is remarkable,” Eccard said.

Chanawongse was born in Thailand, coming to the United States with his mother and stepfather Paul Pachem at the age of 9. He played youth soccer in Waterford, but always had his sights set on joining the military upon graduation. His grandfather was a veteran of the Royal Thai Air Force and a hero to the young Chanawongse.

Chanawongse was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His mother said it was a fitting resting place for her son, her hero.

One year later, parents of fallen Marine carrying on his duty
21 March 2004

WATERFORD, Connecticut -The bedroom down the hall is empty, an emptiness that weighs heavily on Tan Patchem's heart.

Her son's Kevlar helmet rests on a bookcase shelf. The dog tags from his coffin always hang from her neck.

It's been more than a year since she and her husband, Paul, dropped of their son, Corporal Kemaphoom A. Chanawongse, at a New Haven bus station. With the country bracing for an imminent war, the 22-year-old Marine was headed for Kuwait, where his amphibious unit would be one of the first summonsed into Iraq.

His unit was ambushed while securing a bridge near Nasiriyah. The young man with a big smile and a quick wit was killed alongside six other Marines.

”I wake up every morning to know that he's not here. But I realize that the reason he is gone … was to do his duty,” Patchem said. ”When I think that, I know I have to wake up and I still have a duty to do. I just can't be sad forever.”

Chanawongse known as ”Ahn” to his friends was born in Thailand and was raised in Waterford. He enlisted right out of high school and was trained to operate amphibious vehicles as part of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Since his death, the Patchems have seen some of the proudest moments from Iraq: the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue, the capture of the Iraqi dictator and the signing of an interim constitution.

They have also seen some of America's worst tragedies: the suicide attacks at the international Red Cross headquarters and Iraqi police stations in Baghdad, a deadly bombing outside the Jordanian Embassy and coordinated ambushes on U.S. troops.

”I have mixed feelings,” Paul Patchem said. ”For the people who died, I don't want their deaths to be in vain. I don't want us just to leave and have another Vietnam.”

But he doesn't want anyone else to die.

The Patchems know this is an election year and know the debate that is coming.

”Anything is pretty much fair game,” Paul Patchem said. ”It is a pretty political subject, as long as it's an honest debate.”

Chanawongse was confident in his mission when he left for the Middle East. His only real concern, his family said, was that he was worrying his mom. Photos of him wearing a Superman T-shirt and smiling with his fellow Marines were carried in newspapers around the world.

”A lot of people saw in Ahn what they wanted this war to be about,” Paul Patchem said. ”He was a champion for freedom.”

The Patchems kept all the letters they received hundreds of them, from people they didn't know and places they'd never been. Some of the newspapers in Thailand nicknamed him ”Little Brother Ahn,” Tan Patchem said.

A year later, people in Waterford still offer their support. Anything they can do, just call, they say.

”It's almost like Ahn is everywhere in Waterford,” Tan Patchem said.

The Patchems don't know what they'll do with the empty room. For now, it's a memorial.

His favorite books, most about the military, are stacked orderly near the foot of the bed, which is neatly made.

Photos cover the wall, from Waterford to Camp Lejeune, from the Iraqi desert to Arlington National Cemetery.

Family of Marine killed in Iraq receive his medals
June 17, 2004

WATERFORD, Conn. — Relatives of a Marine killed 15 months ago in Iraq were given the U.S. Navy/Marine Achievement Medal in his honor Wednesday during a ceremony at the high school he attended.

Students at Waterford High School remembered Cpl. Kemaphoom “Ahn” Chanawongse, a 1999 graduate of the school, during a ceremony celebrating its graduating seniors.

Chanawongse, 22, and six of his fellow Marines were killed March 23, 2003, in an ambush in southern Iraq while securing a bridge near Nasiriyah.

Chanawongse's parents, Tan and Paul Pachem, were presented with the Navy/Marine Achievement Medal with Combat Distinguished Device, signifying his “heroic achievement” in battle.

“This is a very nice day for me,” Tan Pachem told the Norwich Bulletin before the ceremony. “This is a not a sad day.”

Marine Captain Brian Anderson, the family's military liaison since Chanawongse was first reported missing in action on March 23, 2003, also presented the family with a triangular framed American flag. The flag was flown over Baghdad by Chanawongse's unit shortly after major combat ended.

The Pachems previously received their son's Purple Heart award.

A $500 scholarship in Chanawongse's memory was given to Alex Pai.

Tan Pachem spoke proudly of her appreciation of the community support she and her family have received and the importance of the scholarship in keeping the memory of her son alive. The family wants to increase the scholarship to $1,000 in future years.

“It is our memory of Ahn,” she said after the ceremony. “This is how our memory of him will live on, as long as we have this scholarship to give. We want to help someone in the community, someone we can help get the education that Ahn had planned to get when he came home, to get his degree.”

Chanawongse was born in Thailand and moved to the United States with his family at the age of 9. He attended Waterford High School, where he was an avid soccer player and snowboarder.

He was buried with military honors in April 2003 in Arlington National Cemetery.


  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 03/03/1999 – 03/23/2003
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 05/05/1980
  • DATE OF DEATH: 03/23/2003
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 04/30/2003


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