LCpl. Thomas J. Slocum, U.S.M.C (KIA)
(reprinted from the Denver Post, March 26, 2003)
Feigned surrender claims Colo. Marine
By Chris Frates and Claire Martin
Denver Post Staff Writers
ednesday, March 26, 2003 - Tommy Slocum, who dreamed of joining the Marines when he was still a spiky-haired student at Thornton's Skyview High School, has become Colorado's first casualty in the war against Iraq.
The 22-year-old was killed in action Sunday with eight other Marines.
"He was a typical kid, playing soldier," his mother, Terry Cooper of Thornton, said Tuesday. "But I think he started to realize that it's a job, too. You don't just get to shoot a gun."
Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Slocum and his unit were attacked Sunday near the Iraqi city of An Nasiriyah, a crossroads town near the lower Euphrates River.
They had cornered an Iraqi unit whose soldiers waved the white flag of surrender. But when the Marines began approaching, the Iraqis opened fire.
Nine Marines died and 40 others were injured, U.S. military officials said. All were from the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Twelve U.S. soldiers were killed in a similar ambush nearby.
Joining the Marines was a turning point in Slocum's young life, relatives said. As a high school student, he blended into the background. His parents said he had trouble applying himself to his studies and saw Bart Simpson as a role model.
That changed during his junior year, when Slocum decided to enlist in the Marines.
"I'm convinced if it wasn't for the Marine Corps, he wouldn't have graduated," his mother said.
Three days after graduating from Skyview in 1998, Slocum was so eager to impress the Marine recruiter, stepfather Stan Cooper recalled, that he "must have had half a bottle" of aftershave on. When the recruiter arrived in his air-conditioned car and Slocum got in, the windows glided down almost immediately.
Going to boot camp and becoming a grunt transformed him mentally and physically. When Cooper saw her son at graduation exercises at the recruit training base in San Diego, she was amazed to see how he had bulked up. His leg muscles were so big that she later joked that they looked deformed. He was self-assured and purposeful, with a new sense of direction in life. He'd also learned to use aftershave in moderation.
When he came home on his first leave that August, Slocum couldn't wait to show off his new leather jacket with the Marine Corps emblem stitched on the back. Even temperatures in the high 90s couldn't deter Slocum from showing off his new threads.
"He wore that everywhere and when he finally went back, that jacket stunk," his stepfather said.
Over the next four years, as he served on bases at Twentynine Palms, Calif., Okinawa, Japan, and Camp Lejeune, Slocum grew into a leader.
He re-enlisted for another four- year tour in 2002, and his mother encouraged him to make the Marines his career, she said.
Besides his medals for good conduct and national defense service, he earned a letter of appreciation for work beyond the call of duty.
Even off duty, he liked to test his limits. Last summer, when wildfires were encroaching on a friend's home in Evergreen, Slocum helped his friend evacuate, though he was almost due back from his leave. He made it back to Camp Lejeune with 30 minutes to spare.
He was a lance corporal, the team leader of four Marines, when he was killed.
Slocum was proud of his rank. He almost always included it with his signature when he wrote to his longtime friend Kristy Urbanic, 22.
"I can't wait to come home and share the stories of my experiences and travels with the whole family," he wrote to her on March 13, in a letter she received Monday.
"I've been training hard and becoming smarter, harder, faster and deadlier everyday. ... I took the picture of you and (Urbanic's daughter) Zoe ... and put it in the pocket closest to my heart always."
Slocum had always had a thing for Urbanic, friends said. They'd known each other since fourth grade. Before he left for Iraq, they talked about moving in together when he returned, Urbanic said.
"I want you and Zoe more than anything in the world," he wrote to Urbanic on March 2.
"It does not matter if Zoe is not mine. All that matters is that I love her, teach her and protect her."
Twenty-one days later, he was dead.
Colorado Gov. Bill Owens joined Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Mapleton Public Schools superintendent Charlotte Scarpella and others who sent condolences to Slocum's family.
"My thoughts and prayers are with his family, as well as all the families who have loved ones away at war," Owens said.
Slocum's parents and 20-year- old sister, Ann, gathered in the family's living room Tuesday, hugging and crying as friends and relatives came by.
As local reporters hovered outside and the national media telephoned, Slocum's mother and stepfather said that despite their grief, they were proud of Slocum and his fierce devotion to the Marines.
"Like a peacock," said his mother. "I think he would've slept in his uniform if they would've let him."
Urbanic, who found out about Slocum's death early Tuesday morning, said she believed he "did become a better person by protecting his country" and serving in the Marines. She had a premonition when he deployed.
"I had bad feelings from the get-go," Urbanic said,
"But I couldn't stop him. He wanted to be out there, protecting us."