LCpl. James Phillips

(reprinted from the Tampa Tribune, December 31, 2004)
Tearful Parents Bury Marine Killed In Iraq

PLANT CITY — The only child of Mike and Lisa Phillips was buried Thursday in a tranquil, rural cemetery, where generations of veterans before him had been laid to rest.

Family members, friends and fellow Marines by the dozens said goodbye to Lance Cpl. James Ronald Phillips, killed two days before Christmas by insurgents in Iraq.

His mother wept openly when Marine Lt. Col. Keith Moore presented the Phillipses with a Purple Heart medal awarded to their 21-year-old son for mortal wounds suffered in combat.

Family friend Ronald Tew watched James Phillips grow up.

“He went from baby to boy to Marine,” said Tew, a lifelong friend of Mike Phillips.

“Everyone loved him. He will be missed.”

The Rev. Jim Brady offered words of comfort to those who gathered on the sunny day at Pleasant Grove Cemetery off Turkey Creek Road. Brady drew on biblical promises of heaven, where there is “no more death or mourning or pain.”

“God is our refuge and our strength.”

Phillips, a mortarman, was cut down by gunfire while clearing buildings in Fallujah, Iraq. Contrasted with the bloody war in Iraq, Pleasant Grove, a sleepy community south of Plant City, seems like another world — a place of homes and churches scattered among farms, groves and woods.

Phillips was buried nearly in the shadow of a Southern magnolia. Graves in the cemetery, partially under a canopy of magnificent live oaks, include those of a Civil War cavalryman, World War II veterans and a Vietnam War sergeant. All of them died after their wars had ended.

Brief graveside services included the playing of taps, a rifle volley with smartly dressed Marines firing M-16s. Phillips’ parents also were presented the American flag that covered his silver coffin. Lisa Phillips clutched the flag to her.

Two members of Phillips’ outfit, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, were among the mourners.

Master Sgt. Alan Hall remembered Phillips as a “hard-charging” Marine.

Cpl. Kevin Borders, who knew Phillips only in passing, said it was difficult to stand at the grave of a fellow Marine.

“To see your own brother fall in front of you is very hard,” Borders said.

Rachel Cundiff struggled with tears as she recalled Phillips, a friend since they were eighth-graders at Turkey Creek Middle School. She wasn’t surprised when he joined the Marines after they graduated in 2001 from Durant High School.

Phillips, who family members say loved to fish, hunt, ride four-wheelers and work on his poppy orange 1965 Ford Mustang, was the image of a young Marine, Cundiff said.

“He is very strong … and very determined,” she recalled.

Phillips was the kind of friend who was always upbeat and would shower Cundiff with kind words that brightened her day, she said. His death left the 21-year-old reflecting on how fragile life can be.

“I’ve never had a friend who died like that,” she said.

“He was just a great guy. … He was an awesome person to be around.”

Tony Marrero, the editor of The (Plant City) Courier, contributed to this report. Reporter Dave Nicholson can be reached at (813) 754-3765.