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Friends and family members gathered at the Camp Hansen Base Theater on Okinawa Thursday to pay their respects to the three Marines and sailor that were killed Sept. 8 while part of an embed team that was training with the Combined Security Transition Command in the Sarkani District of Kunar province.
Friends and family members gathered at the Camp Hansen Base Theater on Okinawa Thursday to pay their respects to the three Marines and sailor that were killed Sept. 8 while part of an embed team that was training with the Combined Security Transition Command in the Sarkani District of Kunar province. (Matt Orr / S&S)
Friends and family members gathered at the Camp Hansen Base Theater on Okinawa Thursday to pay their respects to the three Marines and sailor that were killed Sept. 8 while part of an embed team that was training with the Combined Security Transition Command in the Sarkani District of Kunar province.
Friends and family members gathered at the Camp Hansen Base Theater on Okinawa Thursday to pay their respects to the three Marines and sailor that were killed Sept. 8 while part of an embed team that was training with the Combined Security Transition Command in the Sarkani District of Kunar province. (Matt Orr / S&S)
Gunnery Sgt. Edwin W. Johnson
Gunnery Sgt. Edwin W. Johnson (Courtesy photo)
Gunnery Sgt. Aaron M. Kenefick
Gunnery Sgt. Aaron M. Kenefick (Courtesy photo)
1st. Lt. Michael E. Johnson
1st. Lt. Michael E. Johnson (Courtesy photo)
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class James R. Layton
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class James R. Layton (Courtesy photo)

CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa — They died together on the battlefield in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, they were remembered as individuals: the guy who worked at surf shops during high school, the “down-to-earth” guitar player, the avid sportsman, and the strongman who still could bench-press 400 pounds.

Hundreds packed the Camp Hansen Base Theater to celebrate the lives of 1st Lt. Michael E. Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Edwin W. Johnson, Gunnery Sgt. Aaron M. Kenefick and Petty Officer 3rd Class James R. Layton. The three Okinawa-based Marines and the Navy corpsman were assigned to an embedded training team with the Combined Security Transition Command, which trains and equips Afghan security forces, in the Sarkani district of Kunar province. They were killed in an ambush Sept. 8.

On the stage at the theater Thursday were four upturned rifles with dog tags hanging from each, four sets of boots and four helmets. Photos of the four flashed on the theater’s big screen as friends and brothers-in-arms addressed the audience during the solemn ceremony.

Master Sgt. Russell Normandin tearfully recounted Michael Johnson’s first few months as a platoon leader.

It was a “big brother-little brother” relationship, Normandin said of the 25-year-old officer who loved the beach.

“I always thought he had an old Marine soul in him,” he said. “He always instilled a great sense of pride in his Marines.”

Being able to bench-press 400 pounds at age 31 was a source of pride for Edwin Johnson, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Emiliano Deleon told the audience.

Layton was remembered fondly by Petty Officer 3rd Class Renny Vitug as a “simple, down-to-earth guy who could play anything on his guitar.”

“Pick a group or song and he could play it,” Vitug said.

In the program given to those in attendance, Kenefick was remembered for his love of sports, especially golf and basketball.

Lt. Col. Daniel L. Yaroslaski, commanding officer of Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, spoke about all four, then concluded by simply saying, “Well done, Marines; well done, Doc. We’ll take it from here.”

As the service came to a close, everyone came to attention as the names of the four fallen were called. There would be no reply.

“We lost four heroes and four great, outstanding men,” 1st Sgt. Timothy Henshaw said after the service. “I hate to see them go.”

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