MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
A somber gathering of Marines and sailors from 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, paid final respects to two of their own in a memorial service at Lance Cpl. Torrey L. Gray Field Aug. 19.
Cpl. Richard J. Nelson, a rifleman, and Lance Cpl. Dean D. Opicka, motorman, were killed in action April 14 during combat operations in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.
The event began with 10 Marines marching onto the field to the slow beat of the “Marines Hymn” carrying the fallen Marines’ framed picture, boots, helmet, dog tags and rifle with a bayonet attached. The Marines then created two memorial stands with the rifle stuck bayonet first into a sandbag with the boots in front, helmet on top and dog tags hanging from the pistol grip for their fallen comrades.
Lt. Col. Frank W. Charlonis, 2/24’s battalion commander, spoke to his troops about the meaning of sacrifice and how it affects everyone in his battalion.
“These two warriors made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Charlonis. “They made an impact on every Marine in this battalion, including me.”
Nelson was a 23-year-old Kenosha, Wis., native who was serving his second deployment with Company F. According to friends, he was planning on going home after the deployment to start a family with his wife, Kristen, and become an elementary school teacher.
“He loved kids. He wanted to come home, start a family and become a teacher,” said Kristen, in an article published on http://www.usmc.mil, May 5. “Teaching kids would have been perfect for him because they seemed to be the only ones who could keep up with him.”
During the ceremony, Sgt. David Lewandowski spoke about Nelson’s constant support and cheer.
“People will always remember Nelson for his constant smile and positive attitude,” he told the assembled crowd. “He was always there for everyone, especially when we needed him.”
Opicka was a 29-year-old Waukesha, Wis., native, who was serving his first deployment with Company F. Opicka graduated from Carroll College in Waukesha in 2002 with a double major in psychology and history. In 2003 he returned to Carroll College and completed a teaching certificate.
He joined the Marine Corps Reserves in 2005, and was planning on returning to his alma mater as a teacher.
“He was a good Marine and a better friend,” said Lance Cpl. Adam Hotchkiss, a motorman with Company F and close friend of Opicka. “He will be missed by his Fox Company brothers.”
Hotchkiss spoke about how Opicka, loved the Marine Corps and was always motivated. He ended his speech by thanking Opicka for all the memories they had shared.
As the ceremony came to a close, the Marines and sailors were given the opportunity to approach the memorial stands and pay their last respects to Nelson and Opicka.
As the Marines and sailors of Company F came in front of each memorial, they saluted and sank to their knees, many removing their cover and bowing their heads. Some held or simply touched the dog tags hanging from the rifle.
As the memorial came to an end, the Marines and sailors dispersed from the field to continue their post-deployment time aboard the Combat Center.