On the sixth of June in 1996, John R. Howard graduated from high school in Covington, a small town in the mountains of western Virginia. Within five days, he had reported for duty in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Last week, Staff Sgt. Howard, 26, an eight-year Marine and a decorated helicopter crew chief, was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq.

In a telephone interview, his brother said Howard, who had already served one tour in Iraq, returned there at the end of June. He was more than willing to go.

"He said those people over there needed him and needed us, and he was going over there to do his job," Alan Howard said. "That was to make Iraq a free place."

A second Marine with links to Virginia was also killed in the crash Wednesday in Al Anbar province, the Pentagon said yesterday.

He was identified by the Defense Department as Lance Cpl. Tavon L. Hubbard, 24, and his home town was listed as Reston. Both Marines had been attached to units based in California.

John Howard had just reenlisted in the Marines, his brother said. He recalled John as a kind-hearted man who "loved to fly in helicopters, loved being a Marine and loved serving his country."

He said Howard had been a wrestler at Alleghany High School in Covington and was an outdoors enthusiast, fond of fishing and hunting.

"One of the things he hated most about going to Iraq this time was that he was going to miss hunting season," his brother said.

He said he, John and their middle brother, Derek, now a Navy ensign, enjoyed hunting together with their father. Their parents, Greg and Kathy Howard, live in Covington.

Alan Howard said his brother and his wife, Amy Kathryn Vaughn, lived in San Diego and were raising a boy and a girl.

The Pentagon said John Howard was assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 (reinforced) of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He was assigned to the Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar, Calif. He had received the Air Medal with a Strike/ Flight Award, a Presidential Unit Citation, two Meritorious Unit Commendations and other decorations.

"We're very proud of him," Alan Howard said. "He was willing to go and serve his country . . . and freedom."

Public records indicated that Hubbard and family members had lived in Arlington and elsewhere in Northern Virginia. Relatives could not be immediately located last night.

According to military officials, Hubbard was a postal clerk in the command element of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, assigned to the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Marine Corps spokesmen said Hubbard was deployed last month to the Middle East with the expeditionary force.

Hubbard joined the Marine Corps on Aug. 18, 1998, and received the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

Staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.