Last night, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for twelve Marines lost off the Hawaii coast, missing since Thursday evening. It was a nighttime training mission: according to an eyewitness, two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters collided in a fireball, plummeting into choppy seas. Rescuers have recovered all four of the emergency rafts, but no survivors.
This could mark the deadliest domestic training accident since 2001. The oldest of the missing Marines is Major Shawn Campbell, forty-one, father of four. The youngest is Lance Corporal Ty Hart, twenty-one, a newlywed of only a few months. There are ten more Marines; ten more stories.
There is a special cruelty that comes with accidents like these. For those with friends or loved ones in uniform, we wait with bated breath whenever they go abroad, praying for their safe return. We never expect that they might also die at home.
For fifteen years now, our military has operated at a wartime tempo, pushing the realm of the possible in order to remain the most skilled and lethal force in the world. This carries heavy risk, faced each day by men and women who learn to train the same way they might fight. Significant risk was also borne by Navy and Coast Guard first responders, who spent four days searching a crash area in a storm swell that sometimes exceeded twenty-five feet.
It is a true but tired trope that American society has drifted from those who fight our nation’s wars. Even by this standard, however, the tragedy seems to have remained largely invisible amidst the media obsession with Iowa and New Hampshire. In an election year that bursts with patriotic admiration for the troops, we must not forget to pay attention to the troops themselves.
This is a day to mark the sacrifice of twelve brave Marines. They have given everything to their country. In their passing, they will leave holes that can never be filled.