Saturday, February 24, 2007

Jared Landaker laid to rest

BIG BEAR LAKE - More than 800 people crowded a Big Bear Lake church Saturday to honor a local hero and U.S. Marine officer killed earlier this month when his helicopter was shot down in Iraq.

The two-hour memorial began with a Marine honor guard carrying the flag-draped casket of 1st Lt. Jared Landaker and placing it before a flowered stage inside Bear Valley Community Church.

Landaker, 25, was one of five Marines and two Navy corpsmen killed Feb. 7 when insurgents shot down the CH-46 medical evacuation helicopter Landaker was flying in Anbar province.

A dozen speakers inside the sanctuary, ranging from his best friends to football coaches, lavished praise on Landaker for his athletic prowess, fierce patriotism and warrior ethos.

"He was a throwback to another era, when it was OK to stand up for your beliefs," Big Bear High School baseball coach Joe Bradley said. "If we needed somebody to walk through fire -- it was Jared."

His cousin Jaime Payne choked on tears when she described Landaker as embodying the Marine values of commitment, honor and courage.

"Our world is a better place because of Jared Landaker," Payne said. "We are proud of him, and that he fought for us."

1st Lt. Mitch Theisen flew with Landaker in Iraq.

"He looked for better ways to better himself and the pilots around him," Theisen said. "Unfortunately, the pain associated with losing Jared is becoming all too familiar."

Nearly all the speakers, over a continuing muffle of sobs throughout the memorial, repeatedly echoed Landaker's love for family, country and the Marines.

"He was fighting for the freedom he so, so stood for," boyhood friend Shannon Meagher said. "He didn't die in vain. He wasn't scared."

Landaker entered the Marines in 2003 after completing his physics degree at the University of La Verne. After attending flight schools in Virginia and Florida, he was deployed to Iraq in August from Camp Pendleton.

His mother, Laura Landaker, organized a care-package effort -- including 40 handmade quilts and baked goods -- to San Diego-area military hospitals to express face-to-face appreciation for wounded warriors.

The Landakers did not speak at the memorial but expressed their profound appreciation to the standing-room-only crowd through a statement read by relative Cindy Clifton.

"Goodbye my son," Clifton said, quoting Laura Landaker. "It's time for your very bright light to dim. Your very proud Marine mother."

Family friends Rachael Winslow and Genelle Rich, holding small American flags after the memorial, said the overflow crowd stemmed from the Landakers touching the lives of many in the Big Bear area.

"He was the all-American boy," Winslow said. "He was the guy everybody wanted to date. He was a cutie."

Landaker is scheduled to be buried Monday at Riverside National Cemetery.

From the Press Enterprise

Related Link:
Jared Landaker remembered

Related Link:
Jared M. Landaker killed in helicopter crash