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Second Marine with Connecticut ties killed in Iraq this week
By Shelley K. Wong, Associated Press Writer | May 5, 2006
SUFFIELD, Conn. --The Defense Department on Friday confirmed the deaths of two U.S. Marines with Connecticut ties who were killed in combat in Iraq this week.
Cpl. Stephen R. Bixler, 20, of Suffield, was killed Thursday by enemy forces in Al Anbar province, the Department of Defense said Friday. He was based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and assigned to the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Capt. Brian S. Letendre, 27, of Woodbridge, Va., was stationed in Plainville with the 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division. He died Wednesday in combat operations against enemy forces in Al Anbar province, military officials said.
Letendre was assigned to the Marine Forces Reserves inspector and instructor staff, the Defense Department said.
They were the 30th and 31st people with Connecticut ties to die in Iraq and Afghanistan since fighting began in Iraq in March 2003 and in Afghanistan in late 2001. Both men were on their second tours in Iraq, their families said.
News of Bixler's death came Thursday from his family.
"He was on a foot patrol, that's all we know right now," Bixler's father, Richard, said. "We were very proud of what he was doing. He would say a lot of positive things. He was totally committed to his mission."
Bixler was remembered in his hometown as an admired young man who excelled at academics and athletics in high school and enjoyed helping others.
An Eagle Scout, Bixler joined the Marines shortly after graduating from Suffield High School in 2003, his father said.
Kevin Goff, whose son was a close friend of Bixler, said Bixler was a genuinely nice person who made the choice early on in high school to join the military.
"Stephen was the ultimate person that just wanted a simple life and just wanted to do well for other people," Goff said. "He was the all-American kid who wanted to serve his country."
Under his high school yearbook picture, Bixler quoted legendary football coach Vince Lombardi: "I believe a man's finest hour is the moment he has worked his heart out and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious."
Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered both the U.S. and Connecticut flags to be flown at half-staff until sundown on the day of Bixler's interment, which has not yet been scheduled.
Letendre was killed when a suicide vehicle exploded near him, his family in Virginia said Friday. It was his second tour of duty in Iraq.
"He wasn't ordered to go back to Iraq for another combat tour, and his unit was not going to deploy there, but he selflessly and courageously volunteered to go help train the Iraqi forces," his family said in a prepared statement.
"Brian just didn't feel right being back here in the U.S. while other Marines were serving overseas, and wanted to get back to the front lines as soon as he could," the statement read.
Letendre was born in California and raised in Woodbridge, Va., where he graduated from Potomac High School in 1996.
He joined the Marines in 2000 after graduating from Milligan College in Tennessee. After completing training, he chose to become an infantry officer. Before serving in Iraq, was deployed in Okinawa and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He first went to Iraq as part of the initial invasion in 2003 and earned the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a Combat "V" for valor. Letendre returned to train Iraqi forces about three weeks ago, his family said.
His survivors include his wife, Autumn, his 3-year-old son Dillon, his parents and two brothers. His wife and child live in Indianapolis and his parents live in Woodbridge, military officials said.
Letendre and his family lived in New Britain for about 18 months while he was stationed in Plainville, and Autumn Letendre worked as a teacher in Farmington, The Hartford Courant reported. The people who bought the Letendres' home six months ago said it was sold because Brian Letendre expected to be sent to Iraq and his wife wanted to stay with family in Indiana while he was overseas.
Letendre will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
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