Hundreds gather in Pasco to honor fallen corpsman
This story was published Saturday, April 29th, 2006
By Andrew Sirocchi, Herald staff writer
He was the shy boy who conquered a stutter, picked at his nails and faced up to a learning disability that might have kept him from completing high school.
Before he was Petty Officer 3rd Class Marcques Jose Nettles, the 22-year-old hospital corpsman was the boy who overcame spinal meningitis, grew into a football star and triumphed over his many challenges.
"Marcques was very kind and gentle yet incredibly strong young man," his mother, Suzie Nettles, said in an interview with the Herald. "He was very accepting of everyone."
On Friday, several hundred people joined in the vast sanctuary at Faith Assembly church in Pasco, lit candles in his honor and said goodbye.
In a poignant memorial complete with song and a biography of his life, they honored the corpsman who died with seven Marines on April 2. His body was recovered on Easter Sunday, two weeks after the truck he was riding was caught in a flash flood and rolled near Al Asad, Iraq.
"Marcques had great love. He shared with us great love and we honor him," said Pastor Rich Hempel. "(His) struggles helped him become the great young man he turned out to be."
Life wasn't always easy for Nettles, but it was the challenges he faced and overcame that gave him insight and compassion into other people's lives, Hempel said.
Born in Tacoma in 1983, Nettles moved to the Tri-Cities with his family in 1990. At an early age, he became a sports star with his older brother, Curtis Jr. They played little league baseball and -- despite their mother's worries -- football. Marcques Nettles eventually won a Grid Kid Super Bowl under Coach Keith Cordray.
Cordray held back tears as he remembered the boy who faced up to his discipline and stood out as one of his prized players.
"That's when I learned about Marcques' smile," Cordray said at the service. "That smile is constant. It's always on his face. That's Marcques."
The Nettles family moved to Beaverton, Ore., in 1996 and Marcques met his future wife, Christina Mullen, in the seventh grade at Five Oaks Middle School. Both attended West View High School, where Nettles was a co-captain of the football team and Mullen a varsity cheerleader.
While his athletic career flourished, Nettles still struggled with a learning disability that kept him energetic but unfocused. Suzie Nettles said it was faith and prayer that helped him overcome the disability and graduate with a B average.
After high school, Nettles made two of the most important decisions of his life: he joined the Navy and he asked Mullen to marry him.
Suzie Nettles said her son wasn't following his brother Curtis Jr.'s footsteps, who at almost two years older than Marcques, already had enlisted in the Navy. Rather, he was looking to establish a foundation for his career in nursing.
"He was really thriving in the Navy and the Navy thought he was leadership material," she said.
Some of those who came to say goodbye to him Friday knew him. Others knew only that his service and dedication deserved to be recognized.
The candlelight service was organized by Operation Thank You to give the Tri-Cities its chance to say farewell. Nettles' funeral will be Sunday in Beaverton, where he graduated from high school.
But the hundreds who came for the service in Pasco also honored a man who gave of himself not just to his country but his church, his friends and acquaintances. Nettles was the man who used his vacation time in January to help lay tile at his parents' home church, the Prayer Watch Christian Center in Kennewick, said church administrator Lisa Hempel.
Sea Cadets and Young Marines lit the candles of the mourners in a darkened sanctuary. Nettles' father Curtis sang God Bless America to an audience that rose to its feet and stood for the duration of the service.
"This has been tough for us and it's still not over," he said. "But we want to thank you for being here."
Edmon Daniels, a cousin, said after the service that the grieving process and having a large community turnout was welcoming.
"This helps," he said. "When you're feeling low, it helps (to see) that people care."
Edgar Hargrow, a family friend, said Nettles was one of those men who gave his life to hold on to the country's freedoms.
"It's always been the American soldier who answered the call for his or her country -- for liberty, justice and freedom throughout the world wherever it may be," he said.
Sara Nichols, of Kennewick, understands that truth as well.
Nichols lost her brother, Staff Sgt. Abraham Twitchell, 28, of Yelm, in the same accident that killed Nettles. Neither man knew their parents had been acquainted in the mid-1960s, when Nichols' mother Mary Anne and Marques' father Curtis graduated from the same Vancouver high school.
But Nichols said both ended up serving their country together, in an effort to keep freedom in America alive.
"I choose to believe that they spent their last moments laughing together," she said.