Marine Capt. Brian S. Letendre, a Virginia native who lived in New Britain for 18 months, was killed in combat in Al Anbar province on May 3, 2006, on his second tour of duty in Iraq. He left a wife and 3-year-old son.
For Marine Capt. Brian S. Letendre, New Britain was one community among many he lived in during his six-year career in the military. But for those in Connecticut who knew the Virginia native, he was not simply passing through.
Letendre, 27, lived in New Britain with his wife, Autumn, and 3-year-old son, Dillon, for about 18 months while he was assigned to the Marine Reserve unit in Plainville.
Marco Villa and Beatriz Vazquez bought the Letendres' Pendleton Road house six months ago.
"He was super, a great guy. He loved his job, and he took great pride in it," said Villa.
They said the Letendres sold the house because he anticipated being sent to Iraq soon, and his wife wanted to stay with her family in Indiana while he was overseas.
Military officials said Letendre's wife and son are still living in Indiana; they could not be reached on Friday. Vazquez said Autumn Letendre worked as a teacher in the Farmington schools while they were living in New Britain.
The military said Letendre was killed in Iraq's Al Anbar province. His family said in a statement from Virginia on Friday that Letendre was serving his second tour in Iraq and had volunteered to train Iraqi troops.
"He was as good as they come - we're all very proud of him," said Bill Bann, a friend of Letendre's family.
The family said Letendre could have left the Marines but wanted to stay.
"He felt a call to something much greater than himself at an early age and followed his heart to where he felt he could help make this world a better place," Letendre's family said in the statement.
Letendre joined the Marines in 2000. He was part of the force that invaded Iraq in 2003 and won the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for valor during the fighting then, according to a biography that Letendre's family released.
After returning from Iraq, Letendre was assigned to be the inspector-instructor for Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marines, a Marine Reserve unit headquartered in Plainville. His job there was working with the unit's members to make sure they were ready for deployment. When the Plainville unit was called up recently for its first Iraq duty, Letendre went over, too.
Laura Carlin is a member of the United Methodist Church in West Hartford and met the Letendres when they joined the church. She also baby-sat for Dillon.
Carlin said she was particularly impressed at how well Letendre worked with the families of Marines from Connecticut who were killed in action. She said part of his job was to inform the families and help with burial arrangements.
"Brian was a very kind, compassionate young man who loved his country, his family and served his men and their families honorably during their worst times," Carlin said. "He was only 27, but he was responsible and handled his job to the utmost. He firmly believed that this was what he was supposed to be doing and that his men needed him."
But as committed as he was to the military, Letendre was also accepting of differing views about the war in Iraq, Carlin said.
Charlie Company is part of the battalion known as "New England's Own" and is stationed in Fallujah under the command of Maj. Vaughn Ward. Many of the Marines with the unit concentrate on security in the city, but Letendre worked with Iraqi forces.
"He was one of the transition teams that worked with and dealt with Iraqi units," said Lt. Col. Gerald Larghe, who was assigned to take overthe Plainville Reserve Center after Letendre left. "His job was to train the Iraqi army units."
Larghe said he had been on the phone with the captain a few days ago as Letendre called to check in, "making sure everything was working right." So when Larghe heard Letendre had been killed Wednesday, he said, "It was a shock."
Letendre arrived in Plainville about two years ago. He was promoted to captain last year, and his record included two combat action ribbons, a commendation medal, and now a Purple Heart. According to the Marine Corps, Letendre had volunteered for the mission to teach infantry tactics to Iraqi recruits.
Meanwhile, Marines from Plainville were handling the duty they call "casualty assistance" for the family of Cpl. Stephen R. Bixler, 20, of Suffield, an active-duty Marine from a different unit who also died in Al Anbar province.