Don't worry, Joseph Menusa told his wife, Stacy, when he learned that his Marine battalion was to be deployed to the Persian Gulf early this year. He had been there before, serving in the Gulf War 12 years ago. He would be fine.
Gunnery Sgt. Menusa, 33, was killed in action Thursday, soon after crossing into Iraq from Kuwait and nine years to the day after he and Stacy started dating. He was assigned to the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he specialized in construction and demolition.
"He always had a smile on his face. He was so full of life and joy and cracking jokes and making people laugh. That was just him," said Stacy Menusa, his wife of seven years. "Sending a husband into war is not the best thing, but I was behind him 100 percent. He died with honor and loved his job, loved his family and he loved being a Marine. I know he wouldn't change a thing if he had to do it all over again."
Menusa was one of nine new military casualties announced by the Defense Department yesterday.
/ He was born in the Philippines, grew up in San Jose, Calif., and joined the Marines after graduating from high school in 1989, his wife said. He had been stationed in California; Hawaii; Okinawa, Japan; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Most recently he had been doing recruitment for the Marines in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Menusas' son, Joshua, turned 3 earlier this year.
Menusa's job was to secure oil fields, his wife said, but defense officials have told her little about what he was doing when he was killed, other than to say he died in combat.
"We just hugged Joshua," Stacy Menusa said, "and told him Daddy went home to be with Jesus."
Another Marine casualty announced yesterday was Lance Cpl. Michael Williams, 31, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Camp Lejeune, N.C. Until yesterday, he had been listed as missing in action.
Williams had recently become engaged to Heather Strange of Phoenix, whose sister had married Williams's brother. The two had met nearly four years ago, at the same time their siblings had met, but "were in denial" about their feelings for each other until Williams visited this past Christmas while on leave from his base in North Carolina.
"It seemed so right, like it should have been happening all along," Strange said of their decision to marry. "But on January 2, I had to say goodbye. I put him on a plane, and he deployed January 11."
The last letter she received was dated March 8, from Kuwait, and last Wednesday she learned he was missing. "Early Saturday morning I was writing him a letter at 2 a.m.," Strange said yesterday. "I didn't want to stop writing mail. I wanted him to know that even though he was missing we were still loving him and missing him. And right then, there was a knock at my door." She knew what that meant.
Williams's unit had been "engaged in operations" March 23 on the outskirts of Nasiriyah in Iraq, the Defense Department said yesterday. His remains were recovered five days later. In Escondido, Calif., the parents of Marine Lance Cpl. Jesus A. Suarez del Solar said they were upset about the lack of details about his death.
"He knew he was running a risk [serving in Iraq]," his father, Fernando Suarez del Solar, told the North County Times as a stream of family and friends came tearfully to the door of his Escondido apartment Saturday. "But he wanted to give his son a country free of terrorism."
Two Marines showed up at Suarez's door early Friday morning with the news of his son's death. The father told the Times they had no other details, such as how and where he died. He was told he would see his son's body in nine days.
"Why don't they wait until my son is back here before they tell us?" Suarez said of the Marines. "That way, the pain would be less."
Relatives of the other casualties could not be reached to comment last night, and the Defense Department released few details of the deaths.
Staff researchers Lucy Shackelford and Mary Lou White contributed to this report.