Thousand Oaks Marine killed in combat in Iraq
By Marjorie Hernandez, mhernandez@VenturaCountyStar.com
January 30, 2007
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony C. Melia always made sure to call his family and friends every week or so between his missions in Iraq.
The 20-year-old Thousand Oaks native would tell them about his experiences in a foreign land and his hopes to return home safely. Most of all, he would tell them about the awesome responsibility he felt for his fellow Marines, family members said.
Melia died Saturday while conducting combat operations in Anbar province in Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The news of his death was officially released Monday, but his family and friends were notified Friday evening.
He was extremely proud to wear his "dress blues," said his father, Mike Melia.
"He told me, ‘I lead by example. ? I will be the first person to go in there and do it,' " Mike Melia said. "He felt such a sense of duty and responsibility for everyone around him. He was just an incredible human being."
Melia is the 15th Ventura County native killed while on duty in Iraq but the first fallen Marine from Thousand Oaks.
Mike Melia and his wife, Vicki, said their son's battalion was on foot patrol in Anbar when it came across an insurgent who was placing a rocket grenade in an abandoned vehicle. When the insurgent ran from the scene, some Marines were ordered to secure the premises, while the others searched for the insurgent.
"Anthony was walking in the field helping to look for the guy, and that's when a random bullet hit him and ended his life," said Mike Melia, wiping tears from his eyes.
Vicki Melia said it had been a few weeks since she had gotten a call from her son. The family was watching television Friday night when they heard a knock on the door.
"I got up and walked to the door, and I saw five men in uniform standing on my doorstep," Vicki Melia said in tears. "I just knew ... they say when you get a call home, he's injured. When you get a knock on the door, it's not good."
Body on its way back home
Melia's body was en route to a camp in Germany and from there will be flown to a military base in Dover, Del., where it will be prepared for burial, Vicki Melia said. The family expects his body to arrive at Los Angeles International Airport by the end of the week. Plans are being been made for a service at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, but a time and date have yet to be determined.
The Melias said their son dreamed of joining the military from the age of 10. At 17, Melia asked his parents to sign the enlistment form, but Mike Melia said he told his son to wait to make the decision when he turned 18.
About three months after his 2005 graduation, Melia, a defensive back and punt and kick returner for the Thousand Oaks High School Lancers, traded in his white-and-green number 6 football jersey for the Marines' blue uniform.
Melia quickly climbed the ranks and became the fire team squad leader for the Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Pendleton.
He was deployed to Iraq on Sept. 13. Melia was scheduled to come home at the end of February but had been extended to April.
On Monday afternoon, a steady stream of family members and friends came by the Melia home on Roundup Circle. Small American flags lined the front yard of the family's two-story home, while balloons with the words "Today, Tomorrow, and Forever ... I Love You" danced in the crisp wind.
Melia's parents and his sister, 22-year-old Nicole; his girlfriend, Jamie Chunko, 18; and friend Ryan Delung, 20, all sat in Melia's room Monday afternoon, shocked and numbed by the tragic news.
The small room by the garage is in the same condition as Melia left it a little more than a year ago, Vicki Melia said. A bright red-orange Marine Corps flag hung on one side of the room, while other flags honoring prisoners of war and a flag picturing part of a rifle hung above his futon bed.
‘It's a dangerous place to be'
Chunko, wrapped in one of the blankets, wiped tears from her face as she smiled and listened to Vicki Melia.
"He would always say, ‘Make sure you take care of Jamie,' " Vicki Melia said.
Before he was deployed, Chunko said Melia promised to marry her the day he returned.
"I told him I'm going to bring the reverend in the car when we pick him up," Chunko said.
Although he was proud of Melia's commitment to his battalion, Mike Melia said it was his son's compassion for others and gracious qualities that made him proud.
"He was just the brightest light there was," Mike Melia said. "He was a Marine, but he was much more than that. He was just an incredible human being."
The Melias have set up a fund in memory of their son. They are also planning to start a scholarship in his honor. Vicki Melia said administrators from Thousand Oaks High School have also discussed erecting a plaque for her son under the football field flagpole.
Although they are heartbroken, Mike and Vicki Melia say they hope people will continue to support the thousands of men and women who are still serving in Iraq.
They also hope young men and women who decide to go into the military think long and hard about their decision.
"They need to know it's a dangerous place to be, even now," Vicki Melia said. "They go in there wide-eyed ... but this is not fun and games. This is not a video game. This is reality."
For more information about the Anthony Melia Fund, call 384-5321. Donations can be sent to Santa Barbara Bank and Trust, c/o Adriana Sanchez at 4646 Adolfo Road, Camarillo, CA 93012.
Copyright 2007, Ventura County Star. All Rights Reserved.
Dropped photo 01-29-07 Thousand Oaks: Lcpl. Anthony C. Melia in his Thousand Oaks High School Uniform. Melia, who was killed January 27 in Iraq, was Fire Team squad leader for the Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.