LANCASTER, CA, USA U.S. Marines CPL, 5TH ANGLICO, III MEF, (2D ANGLICO, I MHG, I MEF FWD), OKINAWA, JAPAN AR RAMADI, IRAQ 06/20/2006
In the Marine Corps, Christopher Leon found the direction and discipline that had been lacking in his high school years.
He signed up during his junior year and left for boot camp in San Diego shortly after graduating from Lancaster High School in June 2004.
He loved the camaraderie, the high sense of purpose and the physically demanding regimen of the corps.In less than two years, he was a corporal, a swift rise indicating that the Marine Corps saw in him the bravery and leadership it prizes. He was already talking of becoming a sergeant.
He excelled in the martial arts program and was part of a specialized unit trained in the dangerous and difficult task of guiding fire support for infantry troops.Even before he finished his first tour of duty in Iraq, he talked of extending his enlistment so he could serve a second tour with “my Marines.” It was not to happen.
Leon, 20, a chief radio operator, was killed June 20 by a sniper’s bullet as he and other members of the 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company were on a rooftop protecting Army troops patrolling the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
He is survived by his parents, Jim and Kathie Leon; his birth mother, Nikki Ruhl; his grandparents, Lucien and Rita Hemond; numerous aunts, uncles and cousins; and his fiancee, Aimey Vaccaro. His funeral was July 1.
Leon’s parents had supported his decision to join the Marines. “It gave him a focus, a direction. It helped to guide him,” said Kathie Leon, of Lancaster.
During a grueling “gut-check” part of boot camp called “the Crucible,” Leon broke a foot. He refused to quit. “He had a very strong will, lots of determination, and a very high tolerance for pain,” his father said.
Assigned to the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan, he was part of a unit trained to accompany ground troops. Liaison company members must quickly pinpoint the source of enemy fire, then direct counter-fire, either from ground troops, helicopters or attack planes.
It is, in military parlance, a job “at the sharp end of the spear.” Maybe for that reason, Leon talked little during his phone calls of the daily violence encountered by troops in Ramadi.
Instead, he wanted to know about his family and his neighborhood. “He said, ‘That’s the stuff that keeps me grounded, shows me there’s something real, something to hold on to,’ ” Kathie Leon said.
Jim Leon added: “He was a wonderful young man. It was a privilege to be his father.”