Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Benjamin D. Desilets dies 'while conducting combat operations'

ELMWOOD, Ill. - A North Carolina-based Marine killed in Iraq this week was a friend to everyone at his tiny Illinois high school and joined the military to support his 3-year-old daughter, school officials said Wednesday.

Lance Cpl. Benjamin Desilets, 21, of Elmwood and Cpl. Julian Woodall, 21, of Tallahassee, Fla., were both killed Tuesday while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, the Department of Defense said Wednesday.

Both were members of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Desilets' death weighed heavily Wednesday at the 215-student Elmwood High School, about 20 miles west of Peoria in central Illinois.

"He was just a dynamic kid. He was a very handsome boy and he was just as pretty on the inside," said English teacher Cathy Meyers, fighting back tears.

Desilets was "friends with everybody" and returned to the school several times to talk about the military since graduating three years ago, Meyers said.

"If someone new came to the school or someone was down and out, he's the one who had his arm around them saying, 'Hey, having a tough day?'" Meyers said.

Desilets joined the Marines in September 2004 to take care of his young daughter, who was born while he was in high school, Meyers said. He was trained as a field artillery fire control man and was promoted to lance corporal in November 2005.

Woodall, who was on his second deployment to Iraq, joined the Marine Corps in August 2004 after graduating from high school. He was trained as a field artillery cannoneer and was promoted to corporal last September, according to the military.

Additional information about Woodall wasn't immediately released.

Meyers laughed as she described Desilets as "ornery enough to be likable," saying he was a kidder who loved to push the limits with teachers and staff in an endearing way.

"Kids come and go but this is one you don't forget," said Meyers, who is retiring this year after working at her alma mater for 22 years.

Desilets' family did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday.

His younger sister, Hannah, graduated from Elmwood on Sunday, then returned to the school Tuesday to tell teachers after getting word that her brother had been killed.

"Our heart went out to her because she was on such a high walking out of here Sunday as one of our seniors and then she gets this tragic news," said Principal Stan Matheny.

Desilets' older sister, Laura, also graduated from Elmwood and all three children worked through high school to help support their single mother, Meyers said.

"This small school is like a family and we just lost our little brother," Meyers said. "We just don't like burying our kids."

From the Winston-Salem Journal