Monday, August 06, 2007

Heath McRae laid to rest

U.S. Marine Cpl. Heath McRae just wanted to do his bit for the country and come back home to his music, friends and family.

He didn’t get the chance.

On Tuesday, July 24, Heath was killed when an IED, or improvised explosive device, detonated under his Humvee in the Diyala province of Iraq northeast of Baghdad.

The bomb also killed his two passengers, Lance Cpl. Robert Lynch, 20, of Kentucky, and Cpl. Matthew Zindars, 21, of Wisconsin.

Heath was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1 (First) Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendelton, Cal.

The Department of Defense did not release details about what the Marine was doing the day he was killed.

Heath was buried Wednesday, at Willow Point Cemetery near his parent’s farm in southwestern Jack County.

SHS graduate Paul Cochran, who enlisted with Heath in May 2004, escorted Heath’s casket to Texas.

“Paul was going to deploy from Cherry Point, N.C. to Iraq on Sunday,” said Heath’s mother, Rhonda. “So we had to get special permission to get him to come.”

Services were held Tuesday at Cornerstone Community Church.

Heath was buried with full military honors, with 14 Marines designated as riflemen, pallbearers, a bugler and flag bearer.

Heath went through basic training at the San Diego Recruit Depot and completed combat training at Camp Pendleton near San Clemente, Cal.

He served as a diesel mechanic in Okinawa, Japan, for 18 months. After spending a week at home in April, he deployed to the Ramadi area in Iraq. It was the last time the McRaes saw their son.

When Heath enlisted, his parents tried to dissuade him.

“We tried to talk him out of it,” Rhonda said. "There was a war going on.”

Before telling his parents of his intentions, Heath told his sister.

“He said, ‘the Marines are the best of the best,’ and he wanted to be the best,” Rhonda said.
When Heath mentioned God and country, “I quit arguing with him,” she said.

“We weren’t opposed to his going into service,” said Bill, his dad. “He’s so smart. The Air Force offered him a position.”

Heath never told his parents exactly what his duties were, although he worked convoy security in Iraq.

“He couldn’t tell us what he was doing,” Rhonda said. “He also (worked as a) diesel mechanic in Iraq normally, trying to get equipment in working order because the sand ate up everything.”
His parents did see Heath show signs of growing weary of war. But since he had made a commitment, he was going to stick it out until he could come home in fall.

On Monday, Heath made a regular call to his mother.

“He said he was looking to come home in October,” she said, “and the busier he stayed the faster it would go.”

SHS teachers remembered Heath as a good student who made friends easily.

“He did everything we asked him to do,” said JB Perry, Heath’s high school band teacher. “He was good team player and had a lot of good friends. He was just a pleasure.”

Perry said Heath played trombone from the sixth grade.

“Troy Bell would have had him as a beginner, and he would have had Robin Hidrogo,” Perry said. “He stayed with it all the way to the end. That shows something right there.”

Heath also took up guitar, and formed a garage band with Craig Webb, Dale Webb, James Linderman and Robert Spence.

Heath’s parents said that neither of them are musical and have no idea where the talent came from.

“Both he and his sister Amy tested in the fifth grade for musical aptitude,” Bill said. “They both tested high.”

In his graduation biography for the Epigraph, Heath said his favorite teacher was Jeannie Wilson, a debate instructor.

“He was sweet and funny and nice,” Wilson said. “He had a dry sense of humor.”

She said his close friend, Brian Taylor, also serves in the military and is stationed in Nebraska.
However, Brian’s wife, Kari Caves Taylor, said that she was Heath’s close friend.

She recalled being in final rebuttal at a debate competition when suddenly, she could see two heads popping up outside a window “like popcorn.”

It turned out to be Heath and Brian.

“Heath knew how seriously I would take this debate. He was trying to make me laugh, and I did. The judge found it (funny as well),” she added.

“He was always trying to make you laugh,” Bill said.

Kari and Heath both attended Weatherford College on band scholarships, and for the first year in college, she would drive him to Weatherford every day.

After classes, they would stop at a coffee shop where Heath taught Kari how to play chess.
After he deployed, Kari continued to get calls and emails from him.

“His emails to me were always upbeat,” she said. “And he always signed them, ‘Love, Your Brother.’”

“He was a very honorable, likeable and charitable person,” Rhonda said. “He’d give you the last $2 out of his wallet.”

She was about to go into a diner with Heath one day when he stopped to talk to a stranger.
When she inquired about the conversation, Heath told her the man said he was down on his luck, so he gave him some money.

“He said he gave him $2, and that was all he had,” she said.

Rhonda said Heath made friends with girls as easily as he befriended boys.

“You could fill this room with his friends,” she said, gesturing to the large interior of a restaurant, “and half of them would be girls.”

Heath especially made friends with people in band.

“The band kids are all very closely knit,” Perry said. “I know a lot of people are going to be very upset.”

On Saturday, the McRaes got another piece of bad news – that they would not be able to have an open casket at the funeral service.

“He was blown to bits,” Bill said.

From the Azle News

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