MOROCCO — On March 28, Lora Hodges watched the tail lights of the bus carrying her son fade into the distance. Zachary Perrin was headed for Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and from there to Morocco to serve with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit aboard the USS New York, sister ship to the USS Iwo Jima. The two ships are deployed in tandem.
Fast forward two weeks to April 11.
While driving near Lansing, Hodges listens anxiously to sketchy radio reports detailing the accidental deaths of two Marines serving with that contingent. Two more were seriously injured in the crash of an MV-22 Osprey — a hybrid aircraft that takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane — in a military training area southwest of Agadir, Morocco.
“All I heard were the words ‘two Marines dead’ and ‘two seriously injured,’” said Hodges, a Greenville resident. “I instantly stopped breathing. I don’t remember hearing anything else on the radio. I was stuck on the words, ‘Marines dead.’”
Hodges pulled to the side of the road to check her cell phone’s call log, hoping against hope there had been no incoming calls from the military. There had not. She then raced home to go through her emails and reports from online news sources.
“There were no names of the Marines involved,” she said. “It was approximately 8:30 a.m. when I received an email from the ship’s commander that simply stated the families of the four Marines involved in the crash had been notified. I instantly began to sob uncontrollably, for my son, for all of the military personnel aboard the ships and mostly for the families that were contacted.”
More hours passed before Hodges finally received an email from her son confirming that he had not been injured in the crash.
“It is my favorite email,” Hodges said. “I have it printed out and posted at my desk. As a mother, there is nothing more heart-wrenching than to hear the words ‘Marines dead’ and you cannot call, text or contact your son or daughter. You just have to wait and hope you are not one of the families contacted. You just pray. So I continue to start and end my day by praying for my son and all those in uniform.”
The crash occurred during an annual joint exercise involving 1,000 Marines, 200 soldiers, airmen and sailors and about 900 Moroccan soldiers. The official U.S. Marine website states the exercise involves “everything from combined arms fire and maneuver ranges, aerial refueling and deliveries of supplies, to command post and non-lethal weapons training.”
This was not the first time the MV-22 Osprey has been involved in a fatal crash. Designed by Boeing Co. and Textron Inc.’s Bell Helicopter, the troop-carrying aircraft has a history of mechanical problems. Two test flights in 2000 resulted in crashes that killed 23 Marines. Another crash in Afghanistan in April 2010 killed three service members and a civilian contractor. Despite this, the aircraft have been deployed in Iraq.
For her part, Hodges cares far more about her son than for the politics of military spending. She simply wants to see her child again, home safe and sound.
“I cannot tell you, as a citizen, how much pride I have in my son and all of our military personnel for their everyday contributions to our country,” Hodges said. “And the hope that you get to be there when the bus pulls back in and you watch them come back home to U.S. soil.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.