Hawthorne Army Depot

Tina Ripperda and Lt. Col. Gregory Gibbons visit the memorial of the seven fallen Marines that died in a training exercise in 2013.

Tina Ripperda, mother of Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda, who died during a training event at the Hawthorne Army Depot on March 18, 2013 returned on her pilgrimage to the memorial, which honors her son and six other Marines who were killed that night.

Ripperda comes home to Hawthorne for Armed Forces Day; to spend time with the people she calls her “Hawthorne Family”.

On the journey to the memorial site, Ripperda was escorted by a small group of individuals, many of whom had never been to the site. Here, she was able to view memento left behind by fellow Marines, soldiers or just visitors who stop to pay their respect.

Last Armed Forces Day, Ripperda left behind a memorial book at the site, to be viewed by visitors. The book gives insight into the lives of these fallen Marines. Within the pages are stories shared by parents and wives, poems and photos of the men who served their country, but were more than Marines. The pages show husbands, fiancés and men who were proud of their families, their occupations and the Corp.

One rose, for each Marine, was left at the site for the fallen. On her wrist, Ripperda wears the name of each of the departed: Pfc. Johua M. Martino; Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II; Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick, Jr; Lance Cpl.  Joshua C. Taylor; Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork; Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV and Corporal Aaron J. Ripperda, all of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines “The Walking Dead”.

The Marines were training at the Hawthorne Army Depot on that March night were from Camp Lejeune, N.C. During live fire training, a double-loaded round was dropped into a mortar tube, causing the death of the seven Marines and injuring eight others.

A military investigation sited that both human error and a lack of some familiarity with the 60-mm mortar led to the explosion. The report would further state that a lack of training was another cause for the deadly accident.

Ripperda will be back in August with other members of the fallen Marines family to visit the memorial site. She would like to show other family members the hospitality and love that she has received from people of the community and show them the small treasures hidden in Hawthorne, such as the plaque at Veteran’s Memorial Park, the memorial at the Ordnance Museum and other places around town.

The strength of this mother, in light of the accident, is powerful.