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Remembering Marine Killed In Afghanistan

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We have a story now about a soldier killed in the war ignited by those 9/11 attacks. Marine Corporal, Gregory Fleury, was a native Alaska, 23 years old, and on a combat tour when he was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last month. Yesterday, President Obama stopped in Anchorage on his way to Asia and met with Fleury's family.

Alaska Public Radio Network's Annie Feidt has this remembrance of the young Marine.

ANNIE FEIDT: As his friends tell it, Corporal Gregory Fleury didn't have a lot of natural athletic talent. He was tall and skinny, with hands so big they called him Oven Mitts in high school. Standing outside his funeral service, Amy Jones says he was a jokester.

Ms. AMY JONES: He was goofy. You saw him and he was tall and gangly and just goofy. Not goofy looking, just goofy.

FEIDT: But Corporal Fleury had a serious side too. He told Amy he didn't believe in trying, only succeeding, and he put that philosophy to work when he set about joining the Marine Corps after high school.

Ms. JONES: Not to be stereotypical, but the typical Marines big and bulky and mean. And Fleury was none of the above, which I think definitely pushed him harder to be one.

FEIDT: Corporal Fleury made a lot of friends in his high school's ROTC program. But to most, his goal to be a Marine seemed far fetched. He was the opposite of a tough guy - playing violin in the school orchestra. His friend Avery Clayton says he wanted to prove himself.

Ms. AVERY CLAYTON: Everybody told him that he couldn't do it and he showed everybody. And it made it proud, it made everybody proud. Everybody was just amazed and awed, shocked, surprised, thrilled - happy for him.

FEIDT: Corporal Fleury joined the Marines in 2005. He spent two tours in Iraq and then was deployed to Afghanistan. An Alaska flag was discovered in the wreckage of his helicopter crash. His grandfather, Albert Fleury, says he brought it on every mission to show pride in his state and his Alaskan native heritage.

Mr. ALBERT FLEURY: And he was a descendant of Klinkit, Athabascan and Choctaw. So he has a great legacy of Indian blood in him.

FEIDT: Albert says his grandson wanted care packages of smoked salmon and dried moose meat in Afghanistan. When he called his grandfather, he didn't like to talk about the war. Instead, he wanted to hear about the family cabin on a lake in Alaska's remote interior. Albert picks up a newly framed picture of Corporal Fleury, standing on the front porch - green fishing waders make his long legs look even longer.

Mr. FLEURY: This was taken last June on one of his leaves. We were up in Klutina, at our cabin.

FEIDT: They loved fishing together, but Albert says his grandson was a frustrated angler.

Mr. FLEURY: he believed there was no fish in that lake or the river because he never caught any. I always caught all the fish. He'd say, what's up with that? I don't think there's really fish in here. But he'd see me catch and we'd eat them. I'd say, you see, there's proof. He just didn't have that luck, I guess.

FEIDT: Albert says his grandson's death is especially hard to take because he only had a short time left at war. After three deployments, Corporal Fleury was ready to use the GI Bill to earn a college degree. His family and friends were expecting to welcome him home in time for the holidays.

For NPR News, I'm Annie Feidt in Anchorage.

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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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