Free Press Staff Writer
Friday, the day after Mark Evnin of South
Burlington died in a firefight in Iraq, the platoon commander told a reporter:
"Mark did what Marines do. He died fighting for his country."
The reporter, John Koopman of the San Francisco Chronicle, was 15 feet away when
Evnin was mortally wounded. In a satellite phone interview Saturday, Koopman
said he thought Evnin's wound, though serious, wasn't life-threatening.
"I thought he was going to be OK. It looked bad, but I'd seen worse. I thought,
'That's too bad, but at least he's going home.' We joked about it later, how
Mark was going to have sponge baths from the nurses that night."
But Evnin didn't make it. He died in the helicopter evacuating him to safety. He
"It was a shock. It was the first death in the battalion."
Evnin had two roles in the war. He drove the Humvee that carried Koopman and two
other Marines -- a sniper and the sergeant-major. Evnin also was the spotter for
the sniper. He was there to spot the target, to gauge the distance and wind.
In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that was published in Saturday's
Burlington Free Press, Koopman described the firefight encountered by Evnin's
outfit, the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines. He provided more detail Saturday.
The unit of 800 to 900 soldiers was heading toward Baghdad when it was hit with
heavy enemy fire near Kut, about 100 miles southeast of Iraq's capital. It was 2
p.m., clear and hot.
The tanks led the procession that crossed over the Tigris River, followed by
armored personnel carriers and then the Humvees.
"We had been sweeping down the road shooting at anything that resembled the
enemy," Koopman said. "All of a sudden there was a whole bunch of enemy in there
who started shooting.
"Mark got out and got on the hood of the Humvee with the sniper. The
sergeant-major got out and saw there were bunkers that were fortified with
sandbags. That was where a lot of the fire was coming from.
"The sergeant-major told Mark to get off the Humvee and fire one of the grenades
at the bunker. Mark carried one of the grenade launchers an M-203 with him. The
sergeant-major grabbed it and fired a couple of rounds so Mark could spot it.
Mark couldn't see the bunker at first.
"Mark went over to a small clump of dirt to fire. He then moved behind the
armored personnel carrier to reload. He was partly behind the APC and stepped
out and fired again, but someone popped up between the bunker and Mark. I don't
think he was aiming at Mark; he just sprayed the area with machine gun fire.
Mark was hit and went down.
"The sergeant-major crawled to Mark to pull him to safety. He was sitting up,
his head was moving around. He was talking to the corpsman and the
sergeant-major. A Humvee came up to get him out. He seemed to be doing OK."
Later, word came back that Evnin was "stable." Then came the bad news: Evnin had
died in the helicopter.
"It's always an ugly thing to have happen. I didn't know him very long; I'd only
moved onto his Humvee about four or five days before the firefight. But Mark was
a great guy. Folks told me he was a good Marine who always got the work done.
"Mark was one of those kids who really should have been in college, and he was
intending to do that after he got out of the Marine Corps. He should have been
in a frat house. He was bright. He was a good-looking guy who liked his Ray-Ban
"The guy was standing up there engaged in a full-scale battle and he got killed
for it," Koopman added. "You write about people who get killed all the time, but
when it happens to someone right next to you, who you know, it takes on a whole
"He was a prime-of-life kid with a real bright future. That makes it doubly a
Koopman sent his regrets to Evnin's family and said he wished he could have done
more with the story of Evnin's death. But the battalion has been on the move; on
Saturday it was a few miles outside of Baghdad.
Koopman did do one thing for Mark Evnin. Several days before his death, Koopman
let Evnin use the newspaper's phone.
"Seems like the least I can do is invite people I know or people I feel just
need to make a call."
So on Tuesday, with a little time to burn, Koopman let Evnin call home. He tried
his girlfriend first but there was no answer so he left a message. Then he
called his parents.
"I'm very glad that he was able to have that last phone call," Koopman said.
With that, Koopman had to sign off. It was midnight Iraq time.
"This has been a long time over here," he said. "I'm ready for this war to be
Mindy Evnin, the mother of Marine Cpl. Mark Evnin,
left, watches his flag-draped casket at a graveside ceremony in South
Burliington, Vt., Monday, April 14, 2003. Mark Asher Evnin, 21, was killed April
3 near Kut, Iraq, shortly after his unit, the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines,
crossed the Tigris River in a drive toward Baghdad. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)