Luke Mercardante—2008 Shipment Honoree
1st Sgt Luke Mercardante
“I want no person to ever feel sad or pity for me or my Marines as we endure hardship and sacrifice, as this is our calling with the unknown outcome being of God’s master plan.”
Combat Logistics Battalion 24 SgtMaj
OEF 08 / KIA on 15 Apr 08
24th MEU honors its first 2 to fallSources: Paul Wiseman – USA Today, Military Times
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Even before the Marines here began fighting Taliban insurgents in the lawless southern provinces, they were holding a memorial service for two of their own.
Cpl. Kyle Wilks was remembered as a NASCAR-loving prankster. First Sgt. Luke Mercardante, the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in his logistics battalion, was “the glue that held us together,” said Maj. Keith Owens. “He helped our small problems from becoming big problems.”
“It hit us hard,” said Staff Sgt. Liandro Barajas, 28, of Yakima, Wash.
The deaths last week during a supply run — the Marine unit’s first major foray outside the safety of the sprawling military base at Kandahar airfield — are a brutal reminder of an enemy that is tenaciously hanging on seven years after U.S. and allied forces toppled the Taliban leadership for sheltering Osama bin Laden.
About 100 Marines left Kandahar airfield April 15 in a convoy of dozens of vehicles carrying supplies when a powerful improvised explosive device hidden in a culvert beneath the road detonated around midnight.
“The road was gone,” says Staff Sgt. Lauro Samaniego, 30, of Laredo, Texas, leader of a four-man bomb squad who had investigated IED attacks during two tours in Iraq. “This was one of the biggest ones I’ve ever seen.”
The blast gouged a hole 12 feet wide and 6 feet deep, stopping the convoy. Mercardante, 35, of Athens, Ga., and Wilks, 24, of Rogers, Ark., were dead. Two other Marines were injured, one seriously.
“They knew we were coming,” said Staff Sgt. Robin Clements, the assistant convoy commander. “We were making pretty good headway. Out of nowhere — a huge explosion. We could see it from the rear of the convoy. Immediately, we knew it wasn’t your ordinary IED. … That explosion could have demolished a tank.”
The bomb went off beneath Mercardante’s Humvee. He was originally assigned to sit in the lead Humvee but was moved farther back, where it was thought he’d be safer, Clements said.
When the sun came up, the Marines found that they’d been hit in a place of rare beauty — wildflowers, wheat fields, vineyards, streams — in countryside usually dominated by rock, dust and dirt. Samaniego’s team traced the detonator to a spot behind a mud wall about 50 yards from the convoy. The insurgent who planted it and set off the bomb was long gone.
Canadian troops from a nearby outpost fed the stranded Marines and filled in the crater, allowing the convoy to get moving again before mid-morning, says Lt. Col. Ricky Brown, commander of the Marines’ logistics battalion.
Afterward, the Marines’ commander, Col. Peter Petronzio, received handwritten, hand-delivered condolences from dozens of allied countries — a sign, he says, that despite widespread reports of divisions within the NATO security force, “we’re all in this together.”
On Tuesday, more than 100 Marines stood at attention before four empty boots and two sets of dog tags. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tom Nagy, a medical officer attached to the Marine unit, read from a letter Mercardante wrote to his sister.
“I want no person to ever feel sad or pity for me or my Marines as we endure hardship and sacrifice, as this is our calling with the unknown outcome being that of God’s master plan,” Nagy quoted Mercardante as writing.
The Marines say they won’t be looking for revenge when they launch their operations against the Taliban insurgents.
“You focus on what you can do for the living. You’re no good to anyone if you let your emotions get in the way,” Samaniego said. “Am I angry? No. Am I sad? Yes. We lost two men who were willing to fight for other people they never knew and for a culture that didn’t understand them and that they didn’t understand.”
“This is what we do.” Clements said. “We move on.” Her husband is also a Marine back at Camp Lejeune. Together, they have served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, alternating deployments so one of them could stay home to care for their children.
“I’m a mother of four boys,” she said. “I don’t want them over here doing this one day.”
Former VMI ROTC Instructor Killed in AfghanistanSource: Virginia Military Institute
LEXINGTON, Va., April 18, 2008 – Marine 1st Sgt. Luke Mercardante, who served on the staff of the VMI Naval ROTC unit from 2002 to 2005, was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 15, according to a Department of Defense news release.
Mercardante, 35, was acting sergeant major for Combat Logistics Battalion 24 of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit when he died.
While at VMI, Mercardante was an assistant Marine officer instructor, or MOI, and helped train cadets preparing to be commissioned as officers in the Marine Corps.
“As an assistant MOI, First Sergeant Mercardante was a superb Marine and a tremendous role model for all of us,” said Col. William Grace, commanding officer of the VMI Naval ROTC unit. “He loved being a Marine and helping develop our next generation of leaders. He was totally devoted to our cadets while at VMI and to his Marines while leading them in our nation’s effort in War on Terror. He will be missed.”
Mercardante’s impact on training cadets was so appreciated by the VMI Class of 2007 that the class selected him as an Honorary Brother Rat. The first year cadets attend VMI they are known as Rats, and the shared experience of that demanding time forges bonds among them that last a lifetime. Members of the class call one another “Brother Rat,” and the selection of a faculty or staff member to join that brotherhood is the highest honor a class can bestow.
Jamaal Walton, president of the Class of 2007, said the class member extend their condolences to the Mercardante family.
“First Sergeant Mercardante was chosen as an Honorary Brother Rat for our class because he was man of honor, integrity, and always went above the expectations of his duty,” Walton said. “He always lent a helping hand to others and made a positive impact to those who got to know him. Brother Rat Mercardante was truly a great Marine, a great friend, and most of all a great father.”
Sally Coffman Arciero, the class agent for the Class of 2007, said the class was the first that Mercardante saw matriculate and that “he grew into VMI along with us.”
Though his primary duties put him into close contact with those cadets involved in Naval ROTC, he made a special effort to meet all members of the class, she said.
“I saw him making an effort to talk with and get to know all of us,” Arciero said. “It was a much appreciated effort…. I found him to be an intense man, and he supported that which he believed in with his entire being. He was an honorable man, a good leader, and a proud Brother Rat.”
In responding to his selection for the honor with a letter that was published in the Bomb, the VMI yearbook, Mercardante said, “Your class and this great institution has also played a significant role in my life and I am truly grateful for the opportunity to be associated with such a prestigious, honorable, and respectable organization. From the day you matriculated … I developed a sense of respect and admiration for each of you and those who wear the VMI uniform.”
He said he was impressed as the members of the class developed over their cadetships.
“Keeping with the spirit of the Brother Rat,” he said, “I will represent you and your class at all times in the most professional and respectable manner, be an ambassador for VMI, be an individual that any of you can call upon at any time, and wear your class ring with great pride…. This is one of the greatest honors of my life after being able to call myself a Christian, a father, and a United States Marine.”
Former Athenian killed in AfghanistanSource: Joe Johnson, Online Athens
A U.S. Marine who grew up in Athens was killed in Afghanistan Tuesday by a roadside bomb near the Pakistan border, according to his family.
First Sgt. Luke Mercardante, 35, was attached to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a rapid-response force that is hunting down insurgents in the southern province of Kandahar, a former Taliban stronghold, relatives said.
The Pentagon hasn’t confirmed Mercardante’s death.
But his sister, Bridget Clark, said Marine Corps representatives came to her home in Bogart this morning to inform her that her brother had died.
Another Marine died and two were injured in the attack on their convoy, according to Clark.
Mercardante has been in Afghanistan since February, his second overseas deployment; he served as gunnery sergeant at a detention center in Al Asad, Iraq, in 2006.
He planned to marry when he returned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina this fall, according to Clark.
He has two children from a previous marriage.
Born in California, Mercardante moved east as a child and split his time with family in Georgia and New York.
He attended Athens Christian School and graduated from Oconee County High School in 1990. Mercardante attended Gainesville College for two years before enlisting in the Marines in 1992.
One of his brothers, Patrick Mercardante Jr., is a former Athens-Clarke police officer and former athletic director for the local YMCA.
In addition to his brother and sister, Mercardante is survived by two other brothers, his mother, Gertrude Mercardante, of Bogart, and his father and step-mother, Patrick Mercardante Sr. and Katie Mercardante, both of Statham.