Marine Sgt. Luis Del Valle

Marine Sgt. Luis Del Valle (Mark Oliva / S&S)

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — By all accounts, Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Blair would have loved to spend the past week in the jungle with his former unit.

“He taught me once how to make field-expedient trip flares,” said Marine Sgt. Luis Del Valle, a Stinger anti-air missile gunner with 1st Platoon, 1st Stinger Battery, Marine Air Control Group 18. “It was disbelief when I first heard the news.”

Blair, a native of Broken Arrow, Okla., was killed in an ambush near Nasiriyah, Iraq.

According to reports passed back to the unit on Okinawa, Blair and another Marine took fire March 24 on their Avenger, a Humvee with mounted missiles. Blair ran one way while his fellow Marine ran the other. He went missing and was declared dead four days later. The other Marine, who could not be identified, was wounded but survived.

Del Valle knew and worked with Blair for nearly four years on Okinawa and at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C. He said Blair was a good Marine: “He always came in on time and never gave me lip. You’d always see him with a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew and a Marlboro Light.”

Blair was not a poster Marine. He was busted once, Del Valle said, from corporal back to lance corporal.

“When he drank, he got pretty wild,” he said. “The military police knew his name.”

But Del Valle trusted him to perform duties on time, including being ready to deploy for war.

Del Valle knows that being a Marine, especially in combat, is job that carries risks. The news still hit him hard.

“It was really sad,” he said. “There were tears coming down my face.”

Marine Cpl. Robert Valdez worked with Blair for nine months on Okinawa before he transferred to North Carolina before deploying to Iraq.

“He stuck to his guns about what he felt a Marine should be,” Valdez said. “At work, he was down to earth. He loved his family and took care of everyone around him.”

Valdez said the news of Blair’s death was frustrating — mostly because he was sitting out the war in Iraq.

“You wish you could have been there with him,” Valdez said. “It’s real hard to know someone goes to combat and ends up killed and you can’t be there to help them.”

But it’s fitting that because of the circumstances surrounding Blair’s death, his former unit is out training to ensure Marines are ready for any situation, Valdez said.

“I appreciate it, because I knew Blair,” he said. “Every time I look at my Marines, there’s something special about every one of them. There was something special about him, too, and it’s like they’re all Blair.”

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