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MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa — One member of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 didn’t return from the unit’s seven-month deployment.

Cpl. Thomas Saba, 30, of Toms River, N.J., was killed early into the squadron’s deployment to Anbar province, Iraq, in a helicopter crash Feb. 7 — just a few weeks after the squadron arrived in country, and the first daythe squadron begancombat operations, said Lt. Col. Damien Marsh, squadron executive officer.

Saba is best remembered with a smile on his face, some of the squadron’s Marines said Thursday.

“Corporal Saba was known for his vitality and his enthusiasm,” said Marsh, who remembered receiving the notification around 11 a.m. that a sister squadron’s CH-46 Sea Knight had been shot down and that Saba had been aboard to become more familiar with the area.

Gunnery Sgt. James Riddle agreed.

“He was a great guy … a good guy to have on your team,” he said.

Riddle said Saba was always smiling at work.

Even at Saba’s memorial service at Futenma on Feb. 16, Marine Aircraft Group 36 commander Col. John Collins remarked on Saba’s smile.

“I remember looking across the cockpit and seeing that smile on his face. That grin from ear to ear,” Collins recalled at the service.

Marsh said Saba’s enthusiasm was what drove him to deploy to Iraq with the squadron.

Saba, who joined the Corps in 2002, was due to leave active service before the deployment. But he had been with the Flying Tigers for three years, and he didn’t want to let his fellow Marines serve in combat without him, Marsh said.

So, Saba extended.

“He went through several wickets just to deploy with us. That’s how much he cared.” Marsh said. “He was a fine Marine and a tragic loss.”

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