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Fallen Marine Pfc. Jake Suter: On son’s birthday, a mother grieves

Family remains uncertain how son died while serving in Afghanistan

Posted: July 30, 2010 9:42 p.m.
Updated: July 31, 2010 4:30 a.m.

Pfc. Jake William Suter

 

Fallen United States Marine Corps Pfc. Jake William Suter would have turned 19 today.

Instead, the last day of July is shaping up to be one of the worst days his mother, Michelle Unthank, and his stepfather, Chris Unthank, could ever imagine having to face.

“I’m lucky I have work to distract me,” Chris Unthank said.

His wife, sadly, is nowhere near as lucky.

This past week, instead of stacking birthday presents, she had the unenviable task of receiving a box of her son’s belongings shipped from his military base.

“It’s very difficult for me this week,” she said. “His stuff was sent to us from Hawaii.”

And, among the birthday cards, she received a letter from the military stating that the investigation into her son’s death would take an additional six to eight weeks to complete.

She paused for a moment on the phone.

Fighting back tears, she said remembering Jake’s birthday has proven the most difficult time she’s experienced since he died.

Fallen Marine
Pfc. Suter was 18 when he died in the early morning hours of May 29 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province in the northern part of Afghanistan.

He was born July 31, 1991, in American Fork, Utah, and as a boy growing up in the Santa Clarita Valley, he always carried with him a high sense of duty to his country.

He was always in uniform — as a cub and a boy scout, as a member of the freshman and varsity football teams — and was always actively taking part in his community and at his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on McBean Parkway.

Within just a couple of weeks of graduating from West Ranch High School, Suter signed up for Boot Camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.

He trained as an Infantry Assaultman, excelled and quickly earned his Eagle, Globe and Anchor Marines emblem.

Shortly thereafter, he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 111 Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

Six months later, he was fighting in Afghanistan.

After he died serving his country, Suter’s body was flown to the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where the investigation into his death began.

Many in the Santa Clarita Valley learned of his ultimate sacrifice on Memorial Day, when hundreds turned out to honor our troops.

What followed was a week of tremendous outpouring of support and respect for the young Marine.

On June 2, hundreds flooded into the tiny cul-de-sac on Bates Place in Stevenson Ranch, where he grew up, for a vigil to honor his memory.

Teachers spoke of a spirited and enthusiastic young man, his football coach talked about his sense of team and politicians broke down in tears.

And, on June 7, when he was finally laid to rest as a distinguished Marine at Camp Williams Utah Veteran Cemetery in Bluffdale, Utah, 14 miles from where he was born, a service was held in his honor at the Murray Memorial Mortuary in Utah.

Just prior to the candlelight vigil in Stevenson Ranch, his stepfather told The Signal that military officials will answer questions about the death once their investigation is complete.

Military probe
Maj. Alan F. Crouch, spokesman for the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay, told The Signal a short time later that Suter’s case is still under investigation; he cautioned against reading too much into the fact that the Naval Criminal Investigations Service and Judge Advocate General are reportedly involved.

Military officials, in explaining the investigation process to Suter’s parents, used the terms NCIS and JAG, Chris Unthank said.

“It’s typical for the naval criminal investigators to investigate the circumstances surrounding a fatality aboard an installation (military base),” Maj. Crouch said.

Base officials were contacted by The Signal this week for an update on how the investigation is proceeding.

“Have we received any word on the investigation? Not that we’ve received yet,” Sgt. Brian A. Tuthill said.

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