11 January 2002
Teachers' son 'was proud of his country'
Lance Corporal Bryan P. Bertrand, 23
As a teen-ager growing up in Oregon's Coos Bay, Bryan P. Bertrand hadn't considered the military as a potential career.
But after graduating from high school and dabbling with some college courses, the only son of two teachers was attracted to the Marine Corps and the opportunities it offered him.
His family joined him when he graduated from San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot and supported him when he went to San Antonio to train as a navigator in the KC-130 transport airplane.
"They were proud of him," recalled his sister, Rebecca Bertrand Peters, 28.
Bertrand, a lance corporal, last spoke to his parents a few days after Christmas, and he was excited at participating in America's war on terrorism, she said.
But on Wednesday, two Marines from Eugene, Ore., broke the news to the family: Bertrand, 23, was killed with six other Marines when a Hercules airplane crashed in Pakistan.
On Thursday, the flag flew at half-staff at Bertrand's alma mater, Marshfield High School. His boot camp photo was posted on the school's Web site.
Bertrand's father, Bruce Bertrand, is a teacher and junior varsity coach at the high school.
Principal Arnie Roblan said the school will remember Bryan Bertrand, who played basketball and football before graduating in 1997, and will grieve for the other six Marines as well.
"While the death of Lance Cpl. Bryan Bertrand hits close to home, we are mindful that they all belonged to someone else," Roblan said in a statement issued by the school. "We mourn for them as well."
The town's local newspaper, the Coos Bay World, reported that Bryan Bertrand had recently saved enough money to buy an electric guitar, one of his loves.
"He was an all-American-type kid," his position coach, William Lilley, told the World. "He was a kid that was proud of his country."
|From The Oregonian oregonlive.com
Coos Bay Mourns a Fallen Hero
Published Jan. 11 2002
The U.S. Marines fit nicely into the life of Bryan Bertrand. He loved physical challenges: football, basketball, anything to get his heart pounding and the sweat dripping off his face. The Marines just took it a step further, dropping him off in a rugged country to help fly planes.
So, no one was surprised when Bertrand volunteered for a second tour of duty in Pakistan. He could have returned to base in California last month and started picking the strings on his new electric guitar, but he wanted more adventure. He wanted to stay with the team. In a letter to his family, Bertrand wrote that he didn't want to "sit on the bench."
Marine Lance Cpl. Bertrand, 23, died on Wednesday in a military plane crash in Pakistan along with six other Marines. He is Oregon's first military casualty of the war against terrorism. The family remained in seclusion Thursday at their home in north Coos Bay and declined to talk to reporters. But Bertrand's father, Bruce Bertrand, said Wednesday that he is proud of his son and his service to the country.
Flags flew at half-staff Thursday across Coos Bay as the south coast town of 15,000 mourned the loss of a man many consider a hero. Everyone who knew Bertrand used the same words to describe him: "happy-go-lucky" and "energetic."
Donna Bosselman, a retired first-grade teacher, remembered Bertrand as "a very bright, energetic little boy who was an absolute delight to have in the classroom." Bertrand attended Blossom Gulch Elementary School in Coos Bay. But even as a 6-year-old, Bosselman said, "He always liked to be where the action was."
Bertrand initially didn't show an interest in joining the military, his sister Rebecca Peters said. But Bertrand was having trouble finding his niche in life, and the military came along at the right time.
The former basketball player and football star at Marshfield High School played football for one year for the College of the Redwoods in California but wasn't happy there, and he returned to Coos Bay, friends said.
Looking for direction
"I think Bryan struggled trying to find himself," said Mike George, a family friend who coached Bertrand in high school basketball. Bertrand joined the Marines after listening to the stories of a friend who had enlisted, said Christian Lorenz, a friend and former football teammate. Bertrand was the only one of Lorenz's three buddies who talked of signing up to go through with it.
"He loved it," Lorenz said. "He couldn't get enough of it."
Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Boening recruited Bertrand at the Marines' North Bend recruiting office in the spring of 1999.
"When I first saw him, I thought this was a pretty big kid with a ways to go," said Boening, now running the artillery for the 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. "He was home from college. He had long hair, a necklace and an earring. "He said, 'man' a lot. 'Dude.' We got to know each other pretty well, though. Whenever we'd have a function or meeting for recruits, he'd be there."
While Bertrand was at boot camp, the Marines were all he would write about in letters to his friends, Lorenz said. They got back at him by writing letters addressed to Sgt. Bertrand, a tactic known to irritate drill sergeants, resulting in additional pushups for Bertrand.
The high point for Bertrand was making it through navigator school, said Kent Wigle, his high school football coach.
"I think he blossomed after that," Wigle said.
The lure of teamwork
Part of what drew Bertrand to the Marines was the teamwork, the same as football, Lorenz said.
"In the thick and the thin, he was always there right beside you," Lorenz said. When Bertrand returned from boot camp, he checked in with his recruitment officer, Boening said.
"They'd knocked some of the civilian out of him," Boening said. "He'd come over to the house whenever he came home on leave. Marines say this a lot, but I mean it: I really loved this guy."
Bertrand originally wanted to join the infantry. "I guided him away from that," Boening said, "and into aviation electronics. He scored well on the exams."
Bertrand lived for sports. His father played basketball for Oregon State University before working as a teacher and basketball coach at Marshfield High School. His mother, Patty, teaches elementary school in North Bend.
The younger Bertrand didn't excel in basketball as his father did. Rather, his sport was football. He earned all-state honors as an outside linebacker at Marshfield before graduating in 1997.
Both coaches said Bertrand didn't have the natural athletic ability of some kids, but he didn't let it stop him.
"He was a tremendous young man who gave 100 percent whether it was digging a ditch or playing football," George said. "He didn't like being on the sidelines of anything." People were naturally drawn to Bertrand, friends said. Teachers and coaches described him as a school leader who had a lot of friends.
"He was a real radiant kind of guy," Lorenz said.
To those who didn't know him, Bertrand is now a hero. But a Coos Bay Cub Scout group already knew that. In November, they honored Bertrand as their hero and sent him drawings and letters, telling him, among other things, that they hoped he came back safely, said Cubmaster Steve Nasburg.
A memorial service had not been scheduled as of Thursday evening.
- Story by Wendy Owen, with contributions from Norm Maves Jr.