Calif. Base Mourning More Losses

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Jeanne Cohee felt a knot of dread develop as soon as the contingent of Marine Corps representatives pulled up to her Maryland house.

“My kitchen window faces the driveway and when I looked out and there were three Marines ... I knew they were not coming to give me good news,” she said.

The representatives had come Sunday to inform her that her son, Staff Sgt. Walter F. “Trae” Cohee III, was one of two Marines killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan

Walter Cohee and Sgt. Dwight J. Morgan died shortly after their CH-53E Super Stallion took off from a former Soviet base outside the capital, Kabul. Five others aboard were injured.

Both men were based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, which on Thursday held a tearful memorial for seven others killed Jan. 9 in a Pakistan plane crash.

“It's like someone stepping on your heart,” Major T.V. Johnson, a base spokesman, said Sunday. “The Marine Corps is like a big family but what we feel is just a fraction of what the families are feeling now.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the cause of the latest crash appeared to be mechanical failure.

Cohee, 26, of Mardela Springs, Md., was a communication and navigation system technician who joined the Marines in 1993. He had been scheduled to come home in early January, said Jeanne Cohee.

But they needed him to stay and work on the helicopters, and her son wasn't the kind to complain, she said.

“He said, 'Mom, I didn't join the Marines to sit still. I joined the Marines to help,”' Cohee told WBOC-TV.

Morgan, a 24-year-old helicopter mechanic who joined the Marines in 1998, lived in Mendocino County, about 125 miles north of San Francisco. He had been selected for a promotion to staff sergeant, which will now be awarded posthumously, Johnson said.

Classmates and friends remembered Morgan as shy and kind.

“I know his family was real proud of his accomplishments,” said Keller McDonald, Morgan's former high school principal.

The helicopter went down 10 p.m. EST Saturday about 40 miles south of Bagram air base. The Super Stallions are designed for the transport of troops, supplies and equipment.

Since the 30-passenger, long-range Super Stallion came into service in 1981, there have been seven major crashes and 20 deaths.

The Marines halted flights for all 165 of their CH-53E Super Stallions for three weeks in 2000 based on findings of a helicopter crash off the coast of Texas, in which four people were killed. CH-53E flights also were halted in 1996 when a Super Stallion crashed, killing four.

Johnson said Sunday he knew of no orders to ground the helicopters. The previous crash that claimed the lives of seven Marines involved a KC-130 that exploded after slamming into a mountain in southwestern Pakistan.

Miramar is the former home of the Navy flight school popularized in the movie “Top Gun.”

The San Diego-based Marines were part of a suadron known as the Flying Tigers, which had been deployed to the region before Christmas, Johnson said.

The squadron has a 50-year history. In their first mission, the Flying Tigers provided support in the largest helicopter exercise ever — an atomic test exercise at Desert Rock, Nev. They also deployed during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War.

The injured were: Cpl. David. J. Lynne, 23, from Mecklenburg County, N.C.; Cpl. Ivan A. Montanez, 22, from Royse City, Texas; Cpl. Stephen A. Sullivan, 24, from Pickens, S.C.; Capt. William J. Cody, 30, from Middlesex, N.J., and Capt. Douglas V. Glasgow, 33, from Wooster, Ohio.

Glasgow is based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz.

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