Jeromy West is fondly remembered as a Hamilton High School football and wrestling star, best friend to many and the proud owner of a marvelous, mischievous sense of humor. During his senior year in 2004, West enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. A couple of weeks after graduation, he left for basic training.
“I was scared,” his mother Lisa West-Klopf said. “I actually told his recruiter to leave him alone. He was only 17 and I wasn’t sure he knew what he was getting himself into.”
Despite her objections, West said he really wanted to be a Marine, and she ended up signing the papers. Because he was 17, he required a parent’s signature to enlist.
“We had been driving him down to the desert for spring ball,” West-Klopf said. “I was hoping he would change his mind and go to school and play football, but he had made his decision and I knew that I needed to get on board and go through the experience with him, so I signed and threw myself into learning everything I could about being a Marine mom.”
Basic Training was easy for West, and he said that playing Bobcat football at Hamilton had really prepared him for it. He was very proud to become a Marine.
“He looked so handsome on graduation day. I’ll never forget seeing him for that first time on family day,” West-Klopf said. “He looked so different, so grown up, so proud. He became a Marine on Thursday and turned 18 the following Tuesday. He was a Marine before he could vote. During his school of infantry, we were able to see him every weekend. He was having fun. Something about being dirty and blowing things up really made him happy. He enjoyed his training even though it was physically and mentally challenging. But they were preparing him for his unit – preparing him to go to war.”
West was trained as a mortarman. According to the Marine Corps, mortarmen are responsible for the tactical employment of the M224, 60mm light mortar and M252, 81mm medium mortar. Mortarmen provide indirect fire in support of the rifle and Light Armored Reconnaissance squads, platoons and companies and the infantry and LAR battalions. They are located in the weapons platoon of the rifle companies, 81mm mortar platoons of the weapons companies and LAR companies. Noncommissioned officers are assigned as mortar gunners, forward observers, fire direction plotters and squad and section leaders.
After his training at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, West was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, an infantry battalion based out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii and consisting of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors.
“He was disappointed with that because he wanted to be at Pendleton,” West-Klopf said. “He didn’t want to be far from home. He didn’t want to be on an island. It was tough at first but he quickly adapted. He left in November for Hawaii. We were able to bring him home the day after
Christmas for a few days. After returning to Hawaii they immediately started training for deployment to Afghanistan.”
He left for the Middle East in the summer in 2005 and spent his 19th birthday and the following Christmas in Afghanistan. The men were living in some rough conditions nowhere near a base and did without staple supplies often.
“We sent package after package of necessities, snacks and games. They returned home in early 2006, and we flew to Hawaii to meet him and then he was able to come home for a couple of weeks. He was different when he came home. Tired and distant. He went back to Hawaii and settled in just in time to start training for deployment again,” she said.
This deployment was be different, his mother said. He took his training more seriously, possibly because he knew it would be a more difficult tour. He didn’t like to talk about his deployments, and his family didn’t pressure him. Afghanistan stories were more about living conditions, the children in the villages and how it made him feel grateful and proud to be an American. The short time in Iraq was about battles and friends being injured.
“When we found out he was going to Haditha, I could tell he was worried even though he downplayed it. I was devastated to know he was going there. I knew it was going to be dangerous and hard for him and it was,” West-Klopf said.
The troops left Hawaii Sept. 11, 2006. The phone calls came further apart and were very different. He spent his 20th birthday in Haditha, Iraq, and he was killed two months later, his mother said.
The troops were in Albu Hyatt, Iraq. West walked up the stairs to the roof to start his watch when he was struck by a sniper’s bullet. According to his friends, he didn’t suffer and he wasn’t alone, but it was a life-changing moment for so many of the men. West was killed Nov. 25, 2006.
“Ed Darack, author and photographer, wrote a book that was just released about this deployment. Had Jeromy not been killed, he would have been proud of 2/3 and the work they did,” West-Klopf said.
His friends still remember him, and to this day, they still have a Corona beer in his honor. He has a brick in Albuquerque at the Veterans Memorial and also in Temecula at the Veterans Memorial at the duck pond. There’s a bench at Lake Riverside Estates with his name on it at his favorite fishing spot. His memorial service was held at the Hamilton High School football field, with Ben Robinson performing West’s favorite song, “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. The event was attended by West’s friends, family, admirers, schoolmates, teachers and fans.
“All these years later and I still get messages from his Marine brothers about him,” West-Klopf said. “We honor him in everything we do and in the way we live our lives. He would have wanted his friends and family to live their best. After all, that’s why he served, that’s why he became a Marine. To ensure we were all safe and to protect the freedoms we all enjoy. My favorite quote of his is, ‘I love my job, I love being a Marine.’”
Diane Sieker can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.