Photo Information

CAMP BAHARIA, Iraq - Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Kilpela's gear display rests near the water's edge here June 12 before the memorial service. The 22-year-old Livingston, Mich. served as a combat engineer with 2nd Platoon, Company A, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, currently supporting 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment counter-insurgency operations in Fallujah, and passed away June 10 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.

Photo by Cpl Mike Escobar

1/6 brothers-in-arms commemorate friend, fellow engineer

12 Jun 2005 | Cpl. Mike Escobar 2nd Marine Division

Despite his 130-pound body, fellow engineers will always remember Lance Cpl. Andrew Kilpela as one of the biggest and best guys they knew. Maybe it was his larger-than-life enthusiasm for his work. Or perhaps it was his giant sense of humor. For these reasons, the Marines of 2nd Platoon, Company A, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, and 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, will always think of Kilpela as their heavyweight champion. Kilpela, a 22-year-old Livingston, Mich. native, was killed in action June 10 alongside fellow engineer, Lance Cpl. Mario Castillo, when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle on a roadway outside Fallujah. The 2001 Fowlerville High School graduate, other engineers and several infantrymen had been patrolling through the area, posting signs warning local residents to beware of insurgent-emplaced IEDs on the road. Two days later, hundreds of his brothers-in-arms gathered at the water’s edge outside Baharia’s chapel to celebrate the life the fellow men who had lived and served among them. Chaplain Richard Ryan commenced the memorial service with a prayer, after which unit commanders spoke words of encouragement. “To the members of his platoon, Kilpela was known as an aggressive, tenacious guy who got the job done, and never backed down when the odds were against him,” stated Capt. Waheed U. Khan, Headquarters and Service Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment company commander. Kilpela’s platoon members then took the stand and addressed the more than 100 assembled guests. “Fall back on Kilpela’s 130 pound frame, and how he picked fights with everyone and anyone, regardless of the odds, regardless of the size,” stated 1st Lt. Robert E. Spalla, Kilpela’s platoon commander. “Let’s keep him in our memory and in our hearts as we continue to do the job he so fervently began.” “He was a hard worker that could be counted on at all times. We’ll always remember his care-free attitude that helped us deal with every situation,” added Gunnery Sgt. David Dickens, Kilpela’s platoon sergeant. Fellow engineers proceeded to recall their history of service and good times spent with the Marine they sometimes referred to as ‘Napoleon Dynamite,’ a movie character who wore large glasses. “Andy and I were in the same engineering class,” said Cpl. Allen Ryals, Kilpela’s squad leader. “We did a tour in Okinawa together, came to 2nd CEB together, and finally, came here together. Andy was a great friend to my wife and I.” Lance Cpl. Marco Martinez, Kilpela’s team leader, then approached the podium to read a self-written poem commemorating the fallen and deliver some final words. “Thank you, Andy, for always motivating me to go to the gym. We would always ask him, ‘are you coming with us tonight, Andy?’ And he’d always say, ‘Nah, you guys go ahead, you need to catch up to me. He was the biggest guy I knew.” “He would always put on his big ol’ glasses that they gave him in boot camp,” Martinez continued. “He’d take pride in them, saying, ‘I’ll pull any girl with these glasses.’ Whenever rap music would come on, he’d start breaking it down, hip-hop style. He was a really funny guy.” Second Platoon’s Marines also remembered Kilpela for his dedication to duty. “When he worked, he gave all,” Martinez said. “He was a great guy who was always helping out.” After a few final prayers, 1st Sgt. Alex Dobson took the stand to call role. Upon shouting out each name, Kilpela’s squad of engineers answered with calls of ‘Here, first sergeant.’ “Lance Cpl. Kilpela. Lance Cpl. Andrew Kilpela. Lance Cpl. Andrew Jacob Kilpela,” Dobson called out, only to be answered by silence. The bugle melody of ‘Taps’ played to honor the fallen, as Kilpela’s fellow Marines saluted. The congregation then silently filed out to pay their final respects, passing by the fallen Marines’ gear display. At the base of Kilpela’s ballistic vest, helmet, rifle, boots and flag lay a pair of large glasses, similar to those he was fond of wearing while amongst his team. The engineers then left, and prepared to resume their counter-insurgency operations against those who had claimed their friend’s life. They kept their tender memories of Kilpela ever-present in their minds, as was evident even in their living quarters. On the bed where Kilpela once lay now rests a plain white mattress, draped with a small flag. “We’ll do everything we can to have his memory live through us as brothers, engineers and Marines,” Ryals said. “He will be watching us as he stands watch in that post in the heavens above.” Kilpela is survived by his mother, Cheryl; and father, Michael.