Marine killed in Iraq
Muir graduate dies in roadside bomb explosion
By Sonya Geis
Friday, June 17, 2005 - ALTADENA -- The explosion of a roadside bomb in Iraq has sent waves of grief and shock through Northwest Pasadena and Altadena.
Lance Cpl. Dion Whitley of Altadena was one of five Marines to die in a predawn attack on Wednesday. The convoy in which he was riding hit an improvised explosive device near Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.
Whitley, 21, was a machine-gunner. He had been in Iraq for three months.
"I decided I would carry good thoughts. I prayed for him several times a day," said his mother, Deborah Whitley. "The only time I'd get apprehensive is if I didn't hear from him for a period of time. Then when I'd get that phone call, I'd be delighted."
Dion's brother Arian, 26, said the pair talked about starting a barbeque catering business together when Dion got out of the service. Whitley also hoped to use money from the military to go to college, his brother said.
Whitley was an Eagle Scout, a 2002 Muir High School graduate and president of the GeoSpace Academy at Muir. In high school, he played football and belonged to the Z-Club, a student community service group.
His teachers and football coach remembered him as a shy young man who grew into an outgoing leader. Clarence Stubblefield was Whitley's Boy Scout troop leader.
"He ended up being Senior Patrol Leader, in charge of the whole troop," Stubblefield said. The other boys voted him into higher and higher positions, Stubblefield said.
"He was just a likable guy. If someone had a problem, he'd listen to the problem. He'd spend time trying to solve the problem," he said.
Shelley McDonald, Whitley's English teacher, agreed.
"He looked like a football player, but he had a gentle spirit," she said. "He had friends from a lot of different arenas."
He loved being with younger kids, Deborah Whitley said. He helped with the nursery school at Victory Bible Church, and worked with younger Boy Scouts at Camp Cherry Valley on Catalina Island every summer.
Whitley's family and friends also said he was a cut-up.
"When he was in first grade or second grade, his teacher said Dion just stood up in class, did an Elvis Presley impression, and sat back down," Deborah Whitley said with a smile.
Josh Smith, a close friend, said Whitley could make anybody laugh. "You could never tell when he was serious or playing."
Whitley was interested in the military from an early age, his teachers recalled. When he had reports to do in English class, he did them on the Marines.
He argued with other students about the importance of contributing to his country, McDonald said. After he made it through boot camp in March, he came in to talk to her class. He had lost weight, was trim and ready for combat, she said.
"He said (boot camp) was testing his stamina and the strength of his commitment," she said. "He was proud because he had made it through."
But "I tried to talk him out of going into the service," Stubblefield said.
"Everyone did," Whitley's friend Smith said. "I was like, man, you don't know what you're getting into."
Yet Whitley was determined, his family and friends agreed. To be eligible for the Marine Corps, he had to lose weight, so he took up walking five miles round-trip each day to school.
"His mother didn't want him to go. I didn't want him to go," Stubblefield said. "He could have gone to college, but he's always loved the military."
Funeral services have not yet been arranged.
-- Sonya Geis can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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