Ever since U.S. Marine Capt. Michael Martino was a child, he wanted to fly.
Growing up in California, Martino would ride his bike every day to the air show at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, staying from the moment the gate opened until the last spectator had left. He befriended the airplane pilots, who in turn gave him advice and stoked his dream of becoming a pilot himself one day, said his father, Robert Martino.
"Michael was very conscientious," he said. "When he gets something in his mind, he holds onto it with a tenacity you couldn't believe."
That persistent determination followed Michael Martino through life and his career as a Marine captain and pilot, said his father. On Wednesday, Nov. 2 at the age of 32, Martino died in a helicopter crash. According to a U.S. Marine Corps press release, Martino was flying near Ar Ramadi, Iraq when his AH-1W "Super Cobra" helicopter crashed. With him in the aircraft was Maj. Gerald M. Bloomfield II of Ypsilanti, Mich., who also died.
"As a parent, no one ever wants to bury their child," said Robert Martino, who with his wife Sybil lived in the City of Fairfax for nearly a decade. Michael Martino lived briefly with his parents in Fairfax, but spent most of his time after college at officer's school in Quantico or at various Marine bases in California and, eventually, Iraq.
Michael Martino attended Woodbridge High School in Irvine, Calif., and entered junior college at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. He graduated from the University of California at San Diego with a degree in economics and in 1993, entered the military. Martino, who received the rank of captain in 2000, died serving his second deployment in Iraq.
Both Michael Martino and Bloomfield were assigned to Marine Light Helicopter Squadron 369, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Among Martino's awards were the Combat Action Ribbon, the Iraq Campaign medal, the Global War on Terror Service Medal, the Global War on Terror Expeditionary Medal, the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and the National Defense Service Medal.
While Michael Martino was at Quantico, he injured his knee. Although he was disappointed that he was not able to fly during his recovery, for the fellow Marines that ended up serving with him, the knee injury was lucky.
"If it weren't for his injury, most of us here would probably not have known him," wrote Martino's fellow Marines in a statement they read at his Nov. 5 memorial service in Iraq, and then sent to Robert and Sybil Martino via e-mail.
WHILE RECOVERING at Quantico, Michael Martino worked helping soldiers and trainees through health problems and other difficulties. When one of his fellow Marines was due to give birth, he made all the arrangements for her and her husband.
"He went down like a mother hen and took her to the hospital," said Robert Martino. "He was just that type of guy."
"Mike Martino was not one of those guys who monopolized dinner conversations or would be first to sing karaoke at the bar," wrote his fellow Marines in Iraq. "He was a quiet, reserved guy who could light up a room with a smile. Once you got to know him, he was a loyal, trusting and dedicated friend."
"Mike was always prepared and motivated," wrote Maj. Tom Dolan in a letter to Martino's parents. "I recognized that despite his quiet demeanor, the kid had a fire inside him — he was one of those diamonds in the rough who you knew would do great things when given the opportunity."
Martino's quiet determination and bravery showed through in everything he did, said Robert Martino, relating a story in which his son, during his first tour of duty in Fallujah, Iraq, stopped with his fellow soldiers at an abandoned train station. An Iraqi woman came up to them, crying, and led the soldiers to another woman who had been severely beaten and injured. Michael Martino persisted in getting a Medevac helicopter for the woman, said his father.
"And this is all while there was combat going on," he said.
Michael Martino's fellow Marines described him as "sarcastic and funny," as a friend who respected them and forgave easily.
"If he liked you, and you were his friend, he was your friend for life," said Robert Martino. "He would give you the shirt off his back."
"I really feel like I lost my little brother," wrote Dolan.
Michael Martino was a family man and a passionate Washington Redskins fan, said his father. He was so passionate, wrote his colleagues in Iraq, that he could not bear to watch the Redskins lose a game. Michael Martino's devotion extended especially to the Marine Corps, said Robert Martino. Before his death, he said, Michael Martino was recommended for a Bronze Star, which his family hopes he will receive before his burial.
"He was very dedicated and very patriotic," he said. "He loved the Marines."
Martino's memorial service and burial is Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 10 a.m. in the Arlington Cemetery. He is survived by his mother and father, his brother, Robert Martino, his sister Lauri Martino, and two nieces, Devyn and Sydney.