Marine pilot from Big Bear City dies in Iraq
Debbie Pfeiffer Trunnell, Staff Writer
San Bernardino County Sun
Article Launched:02/10/2007 01:00:00 AM PST
BIG BEAR CITY - Every day during his tour of duty in Iraq, 1st Lt. Jared Landaker flew casualty evacuation missions in dangerous combat zones in al-Anbar Province.
After months of performing the grueling work, he stopped looking back at the wounded young men and women being loaded onto his helicopter. It was too upsetting, said his mother, Laura Landaker.
Still, when he called his family from Iraq, the 25-year-old Marine Corps pilot who loved to fly sounded upbeat.
Landaker's calls home ended this week when he and six crew members and passengers died Wednesday in a helicopter crash outside Baghdad.
"We heard early that morning a CH-46 had gone down and it was worrying when we didn't get an e-mail from him afterward," his mother said. "About 4:15 p.m., three Marines knocked on the door.
"You know when you see them what they are there for."
The CH-46 helicopter Landaker was piloting had picked up a wounded Marine in Karbala, Iraq, and was taking him to a hospital when a support helicopter crew saw fire in the back.
The helicopter spun around twice and crashed on its left side. Everyone inside burned to death, the pilot's mother said.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation.
Landaker had been in Iraq since August with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, nicknamed the "Purple Foxes," said his mother.
He was slated to come home on leave next week because he was chosen to take a specialized weapons and tactical training class in Yuma, Ariz.
He would have returned to Iraq in February 2008.
Landaker was raised in Big Bear City by his father, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, and his mother, who builds "spec" houses.
He liked flying in private planes, playing baseball and football and hitting the local ski slopes.
"He hated fishing, but loved skiing and snowboarding, and as a kid was always walking around with a mitt on his hand," said his mother.
He played varsity baseball and excelled in football at Big Bear High School. He was an all- CIF defensive back in 1998.
"He was a standout football player and a standout person," said Dave Griffith, the high school's head football coach. "All the kids around here looked up to him as a role model."
Joe Bradley, physics teacher and baseball coach at Big Bear High, said he had never coached a kid with more heart or courage.
The two remained close after he graduated, and Bradley saw him grow into a young man with great integrity.
"He would tell jokes and laugh, but he always stood up for what he believed in," he said.
After high school graduation, Landaker went on to study physics at the University of La Verne.
He was studying at the college when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took place. He decided he wanted to fly jets in the Marine Corps, said his mother.
"He always aspired to fly, and after 9/11 he felt like he needed to do his part," she said. "His decision kind of blew us away. We thought he'd end up a fireman or coach."
He enlisted in the Marines after graduating from the university in 2003 and was sent to boot camp for officers in Quantico, Va.
Landaker was subsequently chosen for the flight program and went to Pensacola, Fla., to do flight training in T-34s, fixed-wing trainers.
He graduated at the top of his class and decided to fly helicopters.
After his deployment to Iraq in August, his mother did her part for the troops, organizing groups to visit wounded veterans at the Wounded Warrior Center at Camp Pendleton and the Naval Hospital in Balboa.
Now she is waiting for her son's body to come home and planning his funeral. A date has not yet been set for the memorial service.
Her grief is shared by the Big Bear Lake community.
"If there was a good reason to walk through fire, and you asked Jared to do it, he would," said Bradley. "He was a patriot who truly believed it was his job to save American lives."
Contact writer Debbie Pfeiffer Trunnell at (909) 386-3879 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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