LCpl. Thomas Echols
(reprinted from StIgnaceNews.com, December 7, 2006)
Marine Killed in Iraq Remembered by Former Teachers in St. Ignace, Kentucky
Lance Cpl. Thomas Echols Attended St. Ignace, Pickford Elementary Schools
By Paul Gingras
A Marine who lived part of his life in St. Ignace and Pickford was killed by a sniper’s bullet when insurgents ambushed his patrol in the Al Anbar province of Iraq Monday, December 4, his grandfather told The St. Ignace News.
Lance Corporal Thomas P. Echols of Shepherdsville, Kentucky, was 20 years old and on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he died. He was part of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, stationed in Fallujah, Iraq. His home base was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
The son of Rose and Kurt Echols, who once served as the commanding Chief Warrant Officer at U.S. Coast Guard Station St. Ignace, Thomas Echols attended St. Ignace Elementary School until the family moved to Kentucky. He was graduated from Riverview High School in Shepherdsville April 16, 2004.
Karen Young of Riverview was his English and social studies teacher.
“Tom was a great guy,” she said, “motivated and goal minded. From the first day I met him, he said he was going to be a Marine. I guess it was a lifelong goal. He loved our county and believed in freedom.”
In his senior writing portfolio, Mr. Echols wrote about his decision to join the Marines over other branches of military service, and he lived that goal, she said. He was also involved in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at a nearby school, prior to transferring to Riverview.
“He was a practical joker and liked to have fun,” Mrs. Young added.
Friends and staff at Riverview have taken the news hard, she said. Five other graduates from Riverview are currently in Iraq.
One of Mr. Echols’ high school projects was to frame a picture of himself. At the bottom of the frame he inscribed the words, “Man of Steel.”
“I took this as, ‘I’m a strong person,’” Mrs. Young said.
Superman was one of his favorite cartoon characters, she added.
“I think that’s because [Superman] represented doing good,” Mrs. Young said.
Lance Cpl. Echols entered the Marine Corps in March or April 2004, said his grandfather, Donald Wight, who lives with his wife, Mary, in Clay Township.
“He would have been 21 years old on January 2,” Mr. Wight said, and he and his wife, Allyson, were looking forward to the birth of their first child in late April or early May.
“He was a fun-loving young man who liked to have a good time,” and he was very active, Mr. Wight said of his grandson. He liked the outdoors and was passionate about athletics. In high school, he participated in football and track and he was a great fan of University of Michigan football.
“He was as fanatical a U of M fan as I’ve known,” Mr. Wight said. “He made sure I was aware of all the successes U of M was having.”
The last time Donald Wight and his grandson spent time alone together was in 2002 when they attended a UM football game against the University of Iowa.
When Tom Echols was born in 1986 in St. Clair, his father, Kurt Echols, was serving aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Bramble. The family later moved to North Carolina for two years, then returned to St. Clair for another three years on the Bramble. They were transferred to St. Ignace in the 1990s for three years.
Elaine MacDonald, who teaches fifth grade language arts and social studies at St. Ignace Area Schools, remembers Thomas Echols well as a third-grade student during the 1994/1995 school year.
“He was just an awesome little kid,” she said. “He moved to the Soo that year, and I felt so bad that he was going. I really liked him. He was fun loving and full of energy.
“It says a lot about a young boy for me to remember him so well,” she added. This is Mrs. MacDonald’s 32nd year of teaching.
The family moved to Pickford, and Mr. Echols went to work as Chief Warrant Officer for the Coast Guard Station Sault Ste. Marie. During their years in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, Mrs. Echols worked at a store in St. Ignace, Mr. Wight said.
Later, the family moved to Kentucky.
Thomas Echols’ 26-year-old sister, Rebecca, and his 23-year-old brother, Alex, live in Shepherdsville. Alex also served in the Marines and was discharged in May, after completing three assignments in Iraq. Their parents live in Naples, Florida. They were not available for comment at press time.
Conducted by a naval chaplain, the funeral for Lance Corporal Thomas Echols was held Saturday, December 16, in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was buried in a military cemetery.