Marine Was Team Player, in Sports and in Battle

Donald Brown spent his high-school years planning to join the Marines. The New Jersey teen signed up right after graduation. His high-school guidance counselor says he liked the idea of being part of a team. He was just 19 when he died in combat in October.

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Funeral services were held earlier this month in New Jersey for Private First Class Donald Stephen Brown, a Marine who was killed in Haditha, Iraq late in October. The 19-year-old from Suckasunna, a small town in the northwest corner of the state, knew as a high school freshman that he wanted to be a Marine.

Tony Sheridan from member station WBGO has this story.

TERRY SHERIDAN: Donald Brown was never the big man on the Roxbury High School campus. He ran track, and while he was one of the fastest on the team, he's shown as a member of the championship's sprint medley. And from day one at Roxbury, he knew what he wanted to be.

Mr. JEFFREY SWANSON (Principal, Roxbury High School): As a freshman he told his guidance counselor, I want to be a Marine. I want to be like my big brother.

SHERIDAN: Jeffrey Swanson is principal of Roxbury High.

Mr. SWANSON: His big brother had already done a couple of tours already. I think he ended up doing a total of three tours, and Mr. Brown followed his wish, followed his dream.

SHERIDAN: His guidance counselor, Cosmo Lorusso, says that while he did look up to his brother Kenneth, Donald Brown also wanted to be part of something bigger.

Mr. COSMO LORUSSO (Guidance Counselor, Roxbury High School): He had said, you know, he goes, I'm going. He goes, I'm going to be joining the Marines. He goes, that's what I definitely want to do. Later on in his senior year, as his counselor, I said, hey Don, you know, should we just apply to some schools, you know, just in case? And he goes, no, there's no need to. You know, I'm signing and I'm done, you know, that's where I'm going.

SHERIDAN: Lorusso says he looked the part.

Mr. LORUSSO: Well, you know, he had a shorter haircut. You know, most of the time he always wore like Marine t-shirts and things. So it was just, you know, part of who he was.

SHERIDAN: Besides being the guidance counselor, Lorusso is also the varsity football coach. As he watched the school's current crop of athletes fool around in the gym, Lorusso remembered that Brown played football in his freshman year, but had not come out for the team as a sophomore or a junior.

Mr. LORUSSO: Before senior year, he came up to me, he said, Coach, he goes, I'd like to play next year. And I said, you know, Don, I said, chances are because you missed, you know, the two years, I said, you know, you may not play a lot. You know, the other kids are going to be ahead of you. He goes, that's okay. He goes, I just want to be part of the team. He goes, I want to be part of something. And he came every single day, didn't miss a practice. You know, practiced hard, helped that team, you know, get better.

SHERIDAN: Lorusso says that was Donald Brown, the consummate teammate. He smiled as he remembered one game that he did get into. It was Senior Night and Brown got a chance to return a punt to the cheers of his teammates.

Mr. LORUSSO: And he had this habit in practice sometimes, like when he would like run, you know, he would make this like funny noise. He would go woo woop, you know, as he would go by kids. And the kids said, you know, sure enough, he avoids one kid on the field, and you know, starts faking the ball down the field and he made that, you know, sound. And everybody was just laughing on the sidelines.

SHERIDAN: Donald Brown will be honored with a plaque on the Roxbury High School Wall of Fame, alongside four former students who died in Vietnam.

For NPR News, I'm Terry Sheridan.

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