MENTOR, OH, USA U.S. Marines SGT, 2D RECON BN, (RCT-5, I MEF FWD), 2D MAR DIV, CAMP LEJEUNE, NC ZAIDON, IRAQ 06/06/2006
The bond shared by a group of Mentor High School graduates who played high school hockey together, then enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps together, was much deeper than simple friendship. It was brotherhood, said Brian Halan.
This week, the group that has come to be known as the Mentor Seven lost a brother.
U.S. Marine Sergeant Mark T. Smykowski, 23, was killed Tuesday while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province in Iraq. He was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
“Mark died protecting us,” Halan said. “He was a truly all-around amazing person.”
Halan returned to Mentor High Thursday along with Matthew Neath and their hockey coach, Jack Smeltz, to remember the fallen Marine. Halan and Neath recently finished their active duty as U.S. Marine sergeants. Halan, Smykowski and Neath went to Parris Island, South Carolina, for boot camp after they graduated in 2000. Smykowski’s brother, Darren; Neath’s brother, Nathan; and Joseph Lorek and Nicholas Psenicnik went into the Marines in July 2002.
Smykowski chose to become a reconnaissance man, one of the most difficult jobs in the military service. Among other things, reconnaissance involves scout swimming; small-boat operations; close combat skills; helicopter and submarine insertion and extraction techniques; and assault climbing.
“His heart was huge,” Neath said of Smykowski.
“He was an example of what a young person should be as far as appreciation of freedom and all it stands for,” said Smeltz, who coached the six group members who played hockey.
And if a Marine Corps recruiting office ever needed a poster boy for what a Marine is supposed to be, Smykowski would make a perfect fit, Halan said. As he sat alongside Neath and Smeltz, Halan recalled the last time he saw Smykowski. It was on St. Patrick’s Day in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where Halan and his girlfriend plan to settle after they get married.
“He had met my girlfriend and asked if we were getting married,” Halan said. “I said that I wanted him in my wedding and he said, ‘I don’t know, I’m really busy.'” He was always kidding around like that.
Mark T. Smykowski’s mother lives in the Noble Beach area of Euclid near Cleveland. Neighbors have put out American flags on their lawns for as far as the eye can see. As friends and family remember U.S. Marine Sergeant Mark T. Smykowski, his mother hopes they focus on all the good that her son accomplished in his life. “Mark achieved things that it takes people a lifetime to achieve,” said Smykowski’s mother, Diana Ross of Euclid.
She will also remember the way her son related so well to all people, including some of the children in Iraq.
“He was all excited, and he told me some of the Iraqis had remembered him,” she said. “He said, ‘Mom, that made me feel so good.’ He loved being with kids.”