L.CpL. Jonathan L. Smith, USMC
Lance Cpl. Jonathan L. Smith, 22, of Eva, Alabama, died June 6 from
wounds received as a result of a roadside IED explosion while conducting combat
operations against enemy forces north of Karmah, Iraq, during Operation Pitchfork.
Lance Cpl Smith was assigned to
Bravo Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, Regimental Combat Team-8,
Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Poughkeepsie Journal --
LAGRANGEVILLE — Whenever she closed her tear-filled eyes Monday evening, Paula Zwillinger saw her eldest son's face.
They were the images of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Bob Mininger's smiling face, beaming brightly from beneath mounds of protective gear from the deserts of Iraq.
"Deep down under all that equipment, I see him smiling," the LaGrangeville woman said, just hours after she learned her son had been killed Monday by shrapnel from an improvised explosive device in or near Fallujah, Iraq.
Mininger, 21, hailed from Sellersville, Pa. His mother moved to Dutchess County a couple of years ago with her husband Larry. Last year, she started a support group for Marine parents like herself. Semper Fi Parents of Hudson Valley has grown exponentially since.
Mininger deployed to Iraq in January. His tour was expected to end in August.
Zwillinger received the news of her son's death just as hundreds of other American families have — she came home to find two uniformed officers in her driveway.
"I started saying 'no, no, no' to Larry out in the driveway," Zwillinger said, "I said 'I know what they're here for and it's not true.' "
She weathered the first few hours with her husband and friends by her side. Later, she recalled how helpful the officers had been.
"I tried to keep conversation with them because I didn't want them to go, but I knew they had to go," she said. "Not that it's going to bring Bob back."
When Mininger joined the Marines, Zwillinger started looking for support, empathy and advice. She found it online, in a variety of Web sites and message boards dedicated to parents of Marines.
The online resources inspired her to launch her own group, and in December Zwillinger embarked on what has been a whirlwind effort.
Semper Fi Parents of Hudson Valley officially got its name this spring. The ever-growing group has held several fundraisers and drives to collect items for troops in Iraq.
"He always told me he wanted a military wedding," she said, talking to Semper Fi members who filled her home Monday. "He said, 'Wouldn't that be neat Mom, if I had a military wedding, where you walk under swords?' "
She smiled, recalling the vacation plans she discussed with Mininger for a trip they'd take when he came home from Iraq.
"He said, 'I just want peace and quiet ... I'll go hiking. Don't give me the sand, for God's sake,' " Zwillinger said, laughing. "I was going to take him to Cancun."
At times, the men and women in her living room asked questions. Sometimes they offered answers, comfort or help. Sometimes they jotted down notes to follow up on tasks Zwillinger had planned for Semper Fi Parents.
"He told me his Hummer just got upgraded, he had the best armor," she said, her voice choking. "I felt better. I felt comfortable — if you could have a comfort feeling — he was in the best vehicle.
"Then how did this happen? How did he get hurt?" she said, weeping. "I don't understand if he had all the equipment ... He told me before his truck was hit seven times and it got through it — so why was this time different?"
Later, Zwillinger spoke of all the poems and inspirational essays from Marine parents she'd read online. She said she never thought she'd need them for her son's funeral.
Mininger is expected to be buried in Pennsylvania, where he grew up, and where his father and brother live. A local memorial service also is planned.
His mother mentioned the need to be strong.
"There is no other option," Larry Zwillinger said softly, going to his wife.
Paula Zwillinger nodded.
"There's no other option than to be strong," she said, crying in his arms.