Military plane crash victims: ‘These were the elite’

Posted at 7:25 PM, Jul 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-13 21:25:05-04

By Paul LeBlanc, Jamiel Lynch and Joe Sterling

MISSISSIPPI — A painter who loved to fly, a father who married his high school sweetheart, and a former football star who was living his dream of being in the Navy were among the 16 service members killed in Monday’s military plane crash in Mississippi.

Families of the victims have been notified, and a full list of victims should be released in coming days, said Marines Brig. Gen. Bradley James.

“Do me a favor,” Lynda Kundrat, the mother of one of the victims, told CNN. “Tell their story. All of their stories. Tell the stories of the brother Marines that are on the crash site combing for every piece of every person on that plane.”

Here are some of those stories:

Dan Baldassare

Dan Baldassare, a Marine from Colts Neck, New Jersey, was a victim of the plane crash, according to a tweet from the Monmouth County government. “We are forever grateful for his service,” the tweet read.

Mark Hopkins

Mark Hopkins, a married father of three young children living in New York, was among those killed, a government official said.

Hopkins, 34, joined the Marines when he was 18, and was a navigator, according to the Goodwill Church in Montgomery, New York.

The gunnery sergeant had been married for just three years and his children are 2, 1 and four months old.

Hopkins was called creative, compassionate and genuine. He was deeply religious, the church said.

“He is most known for his unforgettable, radiant smile,” the church said. “He was always happy and had a welcoming presence about him. He had a knack for always bringing out the best in others.”

Hopkins was born in Michigan and raised in Chesapeake, Virginia.

He is survived by his mother; three siblings; his wife, Patricia; and his children.

Brendan Johnson

Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson once told his dad, “I got the best job in the Marine Corps.” Johnson was a loadmaster, helping to manage the cargo in the back of the planes.

After graduating from Johnson State College in Vermont, he joined the Marine Corps in 1994. Throughout his career he flew to Europe, Africa, and South Asia as well as active war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’d much rather be flying than doing excel spreadsheets,” he told his father.

Despite his busy schedule, he still found time for his passion of fine art, painting portraits of retired military families in his spare time. Johnson was married and most recently living with his wife in New York. They did not have any kids. He was planning on retiring from the military next year.

William Joseph Kundrat

Staff Sgt. William Joseph Kundrat, 33, was the son of a Marine, but “he didn’t follow in his dad’s footsteps, he marked his own path,” his mother, Lynda Kundrat, told CNN.

“You breathe every breath you take into your lungs because you are American,” she said. “And with every breath in their body — a Marine will fight for you. My son was one of those Marines. He’s my hero.”

A native of Frederick, Maryland, Kundrat was known to friends and family as Billy Joe.

His mother said he had an infectious smile and was in love with his wife, who was his high school sweetheart. The couple had two children.

“My son was a warrior. My son was trained very well to be a Marine,” Kundrat’s mother said. “These were the elite. These were the cream of the crop. The loss of these 16 people are immense.”

Ryan Lohrey

Navy Corpsman Ryan Lohrey, 30, a native of Middletown, Indiana, was a medic identified by US Sen. Joe Donnelly.

“Ryan served our country with honor and we are grateful for his selfless service,” the Indiana senator said on his web page. “He will be missed, and I send my condolences and prayers to his family and friends.”

Lohrey graduated from high school in 2005. He was a football star who was determined to become an elite Navy SEAL. Lohrey’s former high school teacher and football coach, Brent Kinsey, remembered him as standout person.

“One of those kids that you just don’t kind of forget,” Kinsey told CNN affiliate WISH. “He made a great impact on our school community.”

Lohrey’s high school yearbook picture came with the quote, “Live life the fullest you can. You never know when it could end.”

Kinsey said Lohrey did just that.

“He did live life everyday to the fullest. It’s ironic,” he said. “I hope we all do that.”

Joshua Snowden

Texas native Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden was a “positive force” in the lives of everyone he met, his family tells CNN.

The family issued a statement summing up Snowden’s life and personality, calling him “a dedicated Marine, a steadfast friend, and an honorable man.”

“You always knew when Joshua entered a room, and you always knew when he left,” the family said. “He loved God, his country, his family, and his friends, his enthusiasm for Texas was unmatched.”

Snowden, 31, grew up in Dallas, the Dallas Morning News reported. The paper said he graduated from Highland Park High School in 2004. His mother and sister live in Dallas, the paper said.

He played lacrosse at Texas State University, the school said. He graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in communications, CNN affiliate KEYE reported.

Texas State and the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association mourned his death in tweets.

Family members are proud of Snowden’s years with the Marines.

“We grieve for Joshua and for the fifteen others who leave behind enormous voids in the hearts of their loved ones. To borrow the words of one of his friends, ‘heaven has gained one hell of an angel.’ “