Brandon Joseph Van Parys
Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps
RELEASES from the United States Department of Defense
No. 150-07 IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 7, 2007
Media Contact: (703) 697-5131/697-5132
DoD Identifies Marine Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Lance Corporal Brandon J. Van Parys, 20, of New Tripoli, Pennsylvania, died February 5, 2007, while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
For further information in regard to this release the media can contact the II Marine Expeditionary Force public affairs office at (910) 451-5260.
A Marine stationed in North Carolina has died in combat in Iraq, the Defense Department said Wednesday.
Lance Corporal Brandon J. Van Parys, 20, of New Tripoli, Pennsylvania, was only 20 days into his first tour of Iraq when he died Monday in Anbar province. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
His father, Alan Van Parys, said Van Parys was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade as his unit attempted to secure an area along the Euphrates River that insurgents used as a supply route.
"He's a hero," Alan Van Parys told WFMZ-TV. "He gave his life protecting his battalion commander. How can you not be proud of that?"
He said his son had been motivated to join the Marines by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Before Van Parys' deployment, his father said he told the family, "I've done this training, it's time to put it to use."
The family said they heard from Van Parys via e-mail 15 hours before his death.
Van Parys was a 2005 graduate of Northwestern Lehigh High School.
The assistant principal, Kenneth Fisher, described him as a "very good student, a model citizen. He worked hard and challenged himself."
Van Parys took courses in law enforcement at
the Lehigh Career & Technical Institute, a vocational-technical school,
Fisher said. He also served as a volunteer firefighter.
As a boy of 16, Brandon Van Parys plastered a red ''Semper Fi'' Marine Corps sticker to his third-floor bedroom window and dreamed of avenging the wound inflicted on America by 9/11 terrorists.
Four years later, as a man of 20, he was a full-fledged Marine, honed by months of hard training into one of those steely-eyed warriors you see staring out from recruitment brochures.
He looked tough, and he was. But on Monday, just three weeks into his first tour in Iraq, a grenade streaked out of nowhere, hit him in the side, ricocheted into the door of a nearby Humvee and exploded.
Lance Corporal Van Parys — a 2005 Northwestern Lehigh High School graduate who enlisted in November of that year — died instantly.
''He wanted to do his part for his country to avenge 9/11,'' said his stepmother, Tammy Van Parys, red-eyed from crying Wednesday but fairly buoyant with pride as she remembered the lanky, dark-haired youth who loved fishing, hunting, horseplay with his two younger brothers and listening to The Offspring, his favorite band.
The terror attacks ''threatened their whole world,'' she said, framing 9/11 as a shattering and defining moment for Brandon and his peers. ''It took what they knew and shook it up.''
Brandon Van Parys had trained as a field radio
operator but in Iraq he became part of a security detail serving Lieutenant
Coloenl Jim McGraft, the battalion commander, in Al Anbar province. He
was a member of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine
On Monday, Van Parys' unit set out to investigate a tip that the enemy was smuggling supplies across the Euphrates River into a secured area, said his father, Alan, recounting the attack as related by McGraft. They discovered the crossing point and were securing it when they came under fire.
Two Marine sergeants arrived at the Van Parys' Lynn Township home Monday to break the news. It was the moment the Van Parys had dreaded since the moment their son announced his desire to join the Marines.
''We really didn't want him to join. No, no, not during wartime,'' Tammy Van Parys said, recalling how she and her husband had deferred their son's decision temporarily by buying him a new truck.
''But he wasn't happy,'' Alan Van Parys said. ''We could tell he was forming a resentment toward us for standing in his way. A parent can hold back a child so much.''
''It was a conviction in his heart,'' his wife added. ''You can't change that.''
On Wednesday, the telephone in the Van Parys' house rang incessantly as the family huddled in the kitchen where photos of Brandon — as a Marine, a New Tripoli junior firefighter and a first-time fisherman — crowded a countertop. The television was tuned to a Philadelphia news station as the family anticipated the airing of a news segment devoted to his life and sacrifice.
Alan Van Parys said his son's younger brothers, Christopher, 11, and Daniel, 6, were doing well but staying with friends for the time being.
''Christopher firmly believes Brandon's spirit is here among us and we can talk to him any time,'' he said.
The last time the family saw Van Parys was over Christmas. And the last they heard from him was 15 hours before he died, when he sent an e-mail thanking them for a care package of Twizzlers, Swedish Fish, Tastykakes, soup and a toothbrush. He also told them he needed contact lenses because his prescription inserts did not fit into his battlefield glasses.
Van Parys' decision to enlist in the Marines had taken his friends by surprise. For a long time, he seemed headed for a career in law enforcement, and had studied that subject at the Lehigh Career Technical Institute.
Felix Wolhfahrt, 19, Van Parys' LCTI classmate, said he didn't know Van Parys had enlisted until a week before he left for training at Camp Lejeune.
''It shocked me because he didn't tell us about it, but when he felt strongly about something he just kept it inside,'' said Wolhfahrt, standing outside the Van Parys' Lentz Street home.
Michael Sell, 20, of Salisbury Township, said Van Parys was ''a happy guy, but he was always serious. It was hard to make him smile.''
''He was a brother growing up,'' Sell added. ''Whatever he did, I did.''
Van Parys' body was to be flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The family plans to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery. He will probably be mourned at two viewings, one in Lehigh County and one in Montgomery County where his mother, Catherine Hearn, lives.
A fund in Van Parys' name has been established
at New Tripoli Bank. Donations, his father said, ''will help ease the pain
and suffering for injured Marines or Marines that need supplies — Brandon's
10 February 2007:
By Kelly-Anne Suarez Of The Morning Call
Northwestern Lehigh County is the kind of place where people want to raise their children, a tight-knit community that places a premium on tradition, honor and respect. It's a community that values military service. The neighborhood pastor, the high school principal, the volunteer firefighter sipping coffee at the local diner all have served the nation.
''People here feel America has been good to us. We feel it's our responsibility to serve and give back to America,'' said Northwestern Lehigh High School Principal Dennis Nemes, an Army man.
So when locals learned that two of their own, Army Captain Mark T. Resh and Marine Lance Corporal Brandon Van Parys, died while serving in Iraq a little more than a week apart, they felt both heartache and a steely resolve that both were doing what was expected of ''classic, all-American, great young men,'' as Nemes put it.
Resh, a 28-year-old pilot, was killed January 28, 2007, when his helicopter was shot down during one of the fiercest battles between Americans and Iraqi militants since the war began four years ago. Van Parys, 20, was killed by a grenade Monday. He was three weeks into his first tour.
Another Northwestern graduate, Michael Milot, 23, of Heidelberg Township, died in a plane crash February 2, 2007, in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
On Thursday, all appeared business as usual at the Northwestern Grille, a diner on Route 309 that's one of the few gathering spots in the rural enclave near the base of Blue Mountain. But it was clear that under the surface, the deaths of Resh, who grew up in Lowhill Township, and Van Parys of Lynn Township weighed heavily on the hearts and minds of many.
Van Parys worked at the diner as a dishwasher for about a year during high school. The waitresses shake their heads on hearing his name. ''Sweet kid,'' they say. ''The kind you hope your daughter will bring home some day.''
The women had no idea he'd enlisted. Richard Snyder said he had something to do with it.
The 71-year-old New Tripoli native has 44 years of Army service under his belt, so when he sees young people struggling to find their niche in the world, he sidles up to them and plants a seed: the military, he says. Discipline. Direction. Education. Everything you need to begin a solid life. He said that over the years, he's had a role in the enlistment of hundreds of men and women.
He remembers having that very conversation with Van Parys at the New Tripoli Fire Company, where both volunteered. ''Look into the different branches,'' Snyder told him. ''It's not going to hurt you.''
A few years later, the new recruit came home in his ''tans,'' a Marine's Class A uniform. Snyder said Van Parys had morphed into ''a well-built machine.''
He was happy. He loved it, Snyder said.
A few tables away, a group of Northwestern Lehigh Middle School mothers, fresh out of a PTO meeting, took part in their monthly ritual: lunch at the diner.
Most days they'd discuss the latest fundraiser or perhaps a new education initiative, but Thursday there were more somber matters to address. They decried the war and what some said was the unnecessary passing of two young men.
''The service men are honorable, our leaders are not,'' said Mary Boehm, a Schnecksville mother of three. ''We're just hoping they don't reinstitute the draft.''
At this, Barb Byler began to cry. The New Tripoli woman lost her first child to a heart defect when he was only 9 days old. She said thinking about losing her 10-year-old son in a war some day is too much to bear.
These are the kinds of thoughts the recent deaths have provoked, said Justine Bachman of Germansville. ''Our hearts just go out to the families.''
Scott W. Lingenfelter, pastor of New Life Evangelical Lutheran Church, said he's counseled many like Byler over the last few weeks. He said even those who never knew Resh, whose military funeral is today, and Van Parys, whose parents hope to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery, personally can recognize a son, a father or a friend in their eyes.
Lingenfelter said as a Marine Corps veteran, he can understand why Van Parys chose the life he did. For that reason, he said he's felt privileged to minister to the Van Parys family.
Although Lingenfelter said he doesn't believe for one minute it was God's will to take the lives of Van Parys and Resh, the deaths have made the already close community even closer and spawned memorial funds that will help future generations.
''God has a way of bringing blessings out of
tragedy,'' he said.
Poor driving conditions did not hinder friends and family of Marine Lance Corporal Brandon J. Van Parys from attending his memorial service at Calvary Baptist Church in Towamencin on Wednesday morning.
Van Parys‚ 20‚ a resident of New Tripoli and former student of Calvary Baptist School‚ died February 5, 2007, in the Al Anbar province of Iraq while serving his first tour of duty.
A calling period began at 9:30 a.m.‚ when friends and family had the opportunity to reflect quietly at the flag-covered casket or share stories and memories in front of a display table covered with photographs‚ Van Parys’ uniform‚ medals and certificates.
A handful of war veterans stood in front of the church‚ each holding an American flag‚ while 20 or more Marines gathered to pay their respects. Various other members of the military were also present.
The memorial service began at 11 a.m. with a traditional military processional and opening prayer. A slide presentation followed the prayer‚ showcasing photos of Van Parys as a young boy playing at the beach‚ at various family gatherings‚ graduating from high school and becoming a Marine.
Marine Captain Tracy Burke presented the eulogy and described a young man who‚ like many in his situation‚ had showed some anxiety before leaving for Iraq‚ but also showed a “strong determination” to serve his country and to succeed.
Burke explained how September 11, 2001, had a strong impact on Van Parys‚ who at the time was 14‚ and how that incident convinced him to join the Marines when he turned 18.
According to Burke‚ Van Parys was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade while his unit was attempting to secure an area along the Euphrates River against insurgents. Van Parys died while protecting his battalion commander.
Burke said this duty in Iraq seemed different from others. Commanders were reporting some progress was being shown and that the men who would serve this term were some of the brightest and best.
Van Parys was assigned to the 3rd Battalion‚ 6th Marine Regiment‚ 2nd Marine Division‚ II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune‚ North Carolina.
“We ask that you pray for the remaining soldiers who are still in Iraq‚” said Burke.
Calvary Baptist Pastor Timothy Jordan gave the message. He used the stories of the death of Jeroboam’s son and of the imprisonment of Paul to illustrate his main points.
Jordan explained that although the people Van Parys left behind are mourning‚ God is rejoicing because one of his children has returned home‚ much like how his family would rejoice if Van Parys had returned from combat.
“Where is Brandon now‚ you may ask? He is absent from his body; he is present with the Lord‚” said Jordan.
Jordan also explained that although the phrase “he’s in a better place” seems empty‚ it is very true.
“God loved him so much and saw Brandon’s love for him‚ that he saved him from future pain and the rough times ahead. He is now with Jesus. He feels no pain‚” said Jordan.
Six fellow Marines folded the flag that draped Van Parys’ casket and presented it to his mother‚ Catherine Hearn of Schwenksville.
Van Parys also was the son of Alan J. Van Parys of New Tripoli.
The casket was carried outside‚ where a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps” concluded the service.
A second memorial service was planned for 8 p.m. Wednesday at The New Life Evangelical Lutheran Church in New Tripoli‚ where Van Parys had been a member.
He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers‚ the family asks that contributions be made to the Marine Lance Corporal Brandon J. Van Parys Memorial Fund‚ c/o The New Tripoli Bank‚ 6748 Madison St.‚ New Tripoli‚ PA 18066.
A Marine Corps firing party march through Arlington National Cemetery Thursday, February 15, 2007, before
the start of funeral services or Lance Corporal Brandon Van Parys.
VAN PARYS, BRANDON JOSEPH
Photo Courtesy of Holly: April 2007