Friday, February 16, 2007

Jared Landaker remembered

Jared Landaker’s spirit fills his parents’ Big Bear City home, as it has for the past 25 years. His spirit hovers and swirls similar to the helicopters Jared loved to fly. While his body left this Earth Feb. 7, his spirit lives on evident in the family members, friends and acquaintances who gathered to mourn his death and celebrate his life. He died a hero.

Jared was born in Madeira, Calif., May 3, 1981. He was born at home, delivered by his father, Joe, and possible complications left his parents with questions about his development. They needn’t have worried, Jared proved he would be a force to be reckoned with right until the moment he died in Iraq.

1st Lt. Jared Landaker was a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps. He flew CH-46 helicopters, a choice he made. He was in college at University of LaVerne studying physics when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed the course of his life. Jared decided to join the military. He earned his degree then headed to Quantico, Va., for training. Despite fears and being the short kid, Jared excelled and graduated as a squad leader.

After graduation from the University of LaVerne, Jared accepted his commission as a 2nd lieutenant and headed to flight school in Pensacola, Fla. He graduated in the top 5 percent of his class and was sent to Camp Pendleton to train on the CH-46. “He wanted to be part of that community,” Jared’s father said of his son’s choice to fly the CH-46.

Jared flew rescue missions to bring injured soldiers to safety so they could go home and be with their families, he told his family. Before his death on his My Space Web page, Jared posted a definition of what hero meant to him: “Heroes: Anyone who has put their life on the line serving this country.” JROD

“He lived up to that definition to the end,” says Chuck Robinson, longtime family friend of the Landakers who watched Jared grow up.

“Sentimental,” “a pistol,” “ornery,” “dare devil,” “no fear,” “a little temper,” “always loving,” “gutsy,” “a drooler,” “so damn intelligent,” “patriotic,” “loyal.” Just a few of the words and phrases used to describe Jared. But mostly, he was a man of principles, who didn’t back down when it came to righting a wrong and didn’t compromise his values or his principles.

When Jared was born, he didn’t have a soft spot on his head. Doctors told his parents, Joe and Laura, that Jared might be mentally challenged. Doctors encouraged surgery. Joe and Laura said no, they let Jared develop as he was meant to be. Jared excelled, he was smart and athletic. He was just smaller than most kids his age. What he lacked in stature, he made up for in spirit, heart and determination.

Jared was always a spunky little kid. The stories his family and friends tell about Jared include tales of the youngster taking off on SeeDoos when he was too young and told no, chasing his brother, chasing older kids who threatened friends with a bamboo stick among others. He was larger than life, and the stories don’t compare to the space he filled in the lives of those who loved him.

As brothers are wont to do, Jared’s older brother Jason and Jared did their share of bickering. Jason challenged his younger brother to do things like jumping from the roof to the top of the camper. Of course, Jared missed, bounced of the camper and the house, but didn’t shed a tear, warned not to by his older brother. Jason also remembers Jared’s “flowery language,” as Linda Hodson described it, even at the ripe old age of 3. “He should have been a sailor,” Hodson says of Jared. The toddler told an ice cream vendor in no uncertain terms to “F*!$ off,” when the vendor told the young boy he didn’t have any bubblegum ice cream.

“He was my one true friend,” says Shannon (Meagher) Meketarian. She met Jared in the fourth grade, and even then he wanted to fly helicopters or jet planes.

Jared was a person you could call for any reason, and he would be there, his friends say. Luke Wagner, who met Jared when they were freshmen at Big Bear High School, said he got to know Jared through football and baseball, and outside of athletics as well. They remained friends after high school.

When Wagner’s first child was ready to be born, Wagner said there were only a few people he could think of calling at 2 a.m., and Jared was one of them. Jared arrived at the hospital, and stayed all day, Wagner said.

Megan Conroy echoes Wagner’s description of Jared being someone to count on. Jared was her first boyfriend in fifth grade. They remained friends and they talked about everything under the moon when in high school, she says. “He would come up in the hallway and say ‘Megan Jean, I love you,’ while he was giving me a noogy.”

When Megan’s brother was killed in a car accident in 2002, Jared was there for her, she says. He held her and told her it would be OK, something he can’t do now, she says.

Even though he was a hellion when he was younger, Jared loved his Mom and his family, says Sue Robinson, long-time family friend. “The Earth rised and set on Laura,” Sue says, adding that Jared never forgot a holiday. “He wanted his mom to know he loved her.”

“It’s important to know the size of Jared’s heart,” his uncle Mark Clifton says. Besides gifts for mom, Jared never forgot grandparents, and last Christmas he made sure his nieces and nephews received the gifts they wanted, says his sister-in-law Christine. He was also a taskmaster, Christine adds. Jared was adamant the kids would go to college, she says.

He could light up a room just by walking into it and had a devilish laugh that made people smile. Shaun Hannan, who played football with Jared at Big Bear High School, remembers that laugh well. Jared was the Bears quarterback and in a game against Arrowhead Christian, the coach called a quarterback keeper. Shaun says he can still hear Jared’s laughter from the end zone after he scored a touchdown. Jared’s laugh was loud and kind of obnoxious, Shaun says laughing himself.

Leslie (Robinson) Parham and her sister Holly (Robinson) Kendall grew up with Jared and Jason. Leslie says Jared used to run up to her and kick her in the shins, a memory she shares with her father, Chuck. She says Jared is one of he most caring individuals she’s ever known. Holly says Jared always called her by her nickname, as he did most people. She will never forget those eyes of his, and says Jared will keep everyone going with the great stories.

Dave Griffiths, now head football coach at Big Bear, just joined the coaching staff when Jared was finishing his high school career. Jared and David Courtney taught Griffiths what Big Bear football is all about, Griffiths says. They don’t come any better than Jared, Griffiths says.

The stories about Jared are many. He was loved and cared for by his family, friends and the extended family of Big Bear and beyond. Megan Conroy says she was lucky enough to spend time with Jared before he shipped out to Iraq. She said that’s when she realized how passionate he and the members of his squadron, the Purple Foxes, were about their journey. “I don’t have to do this, I want to do this,” Megan says Jared told her.

Jared’s mother Laura says Jared’s family and friends meant everything to him and if he was protecting his family and friends from harm, it was worth giving his life for.

Jared Landaker gave his life Feb. 7, 2007, flying a CH-46 helicopter over Anbar province. Original reports were that the chopper suffered mechanical failure. New reports state the helicopter was possibly shot down by a surface to air missile. All seven military personnel on board were killed.

From the Big Bear Grizzly

Related Link:
Jared M. Landaker killed in helicopter crash