Alumnus dies in Iraq copter crash
|Posted Feb. 23, 2007|
A heroic and patriotic soul deeply affected by the events of Sept. 11, First Lieutenant Jared Landaker, a helicopter pilot with the HMM-364 Purple Foxes, Camp Pendleton, and a 2003 University of La Verne graduate, joined the Marine Corps as a junior, deploying to Iraq in August 2006.
He served on medical evacuation missions, airlifting Marines, Iraqi soldiers and civilians to safety on a daily basis, and was one of seven crewmembers and passengers who died Feb. 7 during routine operations interrupted by hostile fire, 20 miles west of Baghdad. He was 25.
The newly named aircraft commander, co-piloting a CH-46 Sea Knight, had just finished an evacuation operation when he was summoned to complete a blood-run, his father Joe Landaker, a retired California Highway Patrol Officer of 35 years, said. The helicopter went down in flames when struck by a surface-to-air missile in the Al Anbar Province outside Baghdad.
“He was the best patriot I ever met; he loved his country, family and friends,” his mother Laura Landaker said. “Know that he was proud to be an American.”
Demonstrating the qualities of a Marine before his time, Lt. Landaker stood firm in his beliefs, voicing his opinions through several letters to the editor at Campus Times while majoring in physics at ULV.
In one such letter, he asked that students and faculty support troops in Iraq by honoring Veteran’s Day. “We should never forget those courageous souls who have given their lives to this country and each citizen who calls America home,” he wrote in Nov. 2001.
Scott Winterburn, associate professor of movement and sports science and Leos baseball team coach, said he could picture Lt. Landaker as he stood next to Matt Jackson, his fellow team member and friend, at the Rock amid a protest for peace following announcements that America would retaliate against the tragedies of Sept. 11.
“Here’s a guy who got a great degree from a great school; he could have done anything that he wanted and he made the choice to become a helicopter pilot and be a Marine,” Winterburn said. “I just don’t know too many people who would have that kind of courage and character to put their lives in that kind of peril for what they believed in.”
During his undergraduate years at La Verne, Landaker gained recognition and respect within his major as well as on Ben Hines field, where he played baseball in 2001.
“There were many times during that year that we were challenged to play to the best of our abilities,” Winterburn said. “Jared was one of the ones in the forefront all of the time who I could count on to do everything I asked him to do at 100 percent. I don’t have a memory of that team without him in it.”
While deployed, Lt. Landaker maintained frequent contact with family and friends, continually expressing his love of flight and high spirits through phone calls and e-mail.
“He knew he was doing a good thing: he was making a difference saving lives and he ended up dying doing just that,” Jackson said. “I know he didn’t have any regrets.”
Friends first via the baseball field, a common passion for the rock-roots blended punk of Social Distortion further united Lt. Landaker and Jackson, a first lieutenant and Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the California Army National Guard. They attended a countless number of shows throughout the Inland Empire together, first as “rowdy kids” in the thick of mosh pits and then as more reserved appreciative fans who “hung out in the back.”
“Before he left, he said it wasn’t something he had to do, but something he wanted to do,” Jackson said. “He was my friend, my brother, my comrade and my hero. People need to know about him, especially in the La Verne community. A true hero went to the University of La Verne and fought and died for his country.”
Drawing words from a compiled list of memories, Jackson added that Lt. Landaker’s bright eyes and contagious smile enveloped all around him.
“He had this presence about him; he made you feel special just by being near him,” Jackson said. “He didn’t have to, but if you were one of the people he loved he made it a point to let you know. His kindness, thoughtfulness and sincerity always went above and beyond.”
His loss was felt by the entire Big Bear community, his family’s home of 20 years.
Born on May 3, 1981, Lt. Landaker grew up in Big Bear and became known for his small stature, feisty nature and lion-sized heart. He was a standout student and athlete at Big Bear High School, where he played on the baseball team for four years and was also the quarterback of the football team.
As a senior in 1999, he was named defensive back CIF champion and was inducted into the player Hall of fame. In homage to his athletic legacy at Big Bear High School, his jersey number — No. 15 — was recently retired and an award is to be named in his honor.
Lt. Landaker decided to enlist in the Marine Corps in the summer of 2001. Attending Marine Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, he naturally excelled and was named squad leader. Upon graduating ULV, he accepted commission as Second Lieutenant, attended The Basic School for Officers and then immediately entered flight school in Pensacola, Fla., from 2004-2005. While in flight training, he was placed on the Commodores list, representing the top five percent of his class, and awarded the privilege of selecting an aircraft.
A memorial service, with 500 people in attendance, was held Saturday at the Community Church of Big Bear Lake, where Lt. Landaker received a Military and California Patrol Honor Guard. Funeral services, held Monday at Riverside National Cemetery, included full military honors, with a 21-gun salute.
“Jared was a very caring individual, he was the light of our lives,” Joe Landaker said. “He was so important to us; we are just devastated at our loss and are still in mourning. We loved him greatly, he was a great boy.”
Lt. Landaker was due to arrive home on Feb. 15, four days prior to his funeral. He planned on attending a specialized weaponry and training school in Yuma, Ariz., beginning in March and was not scheduled to return to Iraq till February 2008.
“He was just a one-of-a-kind guy and leaves a big, big void in our hearts,” Laura Landaker said.
Lt. Landaker is survived by his parents; Joe and Laura; and his older brother, Jason.