WASHINGTON – All Michael Starr wanted to be was a Marine.
As a senior at Perry Hall High School, Starr spent two hours at the gym every night running and pumping iron to get ready for what he hoped would be a life in the military, according to one teacher. Starr even skipped his June 2001 graduation so he could get to boot camp early at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
But the 21-year-old lance corporal’s dream was cut short Wednesday when Starr was killed in a helicopter crash in bad weather in western Iraq with 30 other servicemen — 29 Marines and one sailor.
Starr was identified Friday by the Pentagon, which said it had not determined a cause for the crash near Ar Rutbah, about 200 miles west of Baghdad.
Starr was the only Maryland soldier in the crash. His death brings to 21 the number of servicemen from Maryland who have died since fighting began in Iraq.
Family members could not be reached Friday.
But Pat Sokoloski, who coordinates the work-study program at Perry Hall, said that Starr was “very, very focused” on becoming a Marine. Starr was in work-study during his last year at the Baltimore County school.
“He just pushed himself to unbelievable limits,” said Sokoloski, who described a typical day for Starr as classes in the morning, a job at a pretzel store in the evening and nighttime workouts in the gym.
He left for recruit training in May 2001, the military said, and he trained to become a rifleman before shipping to Hawaii in the fall of 2002.
“When Mike finished Parris Island he brought me a T-shirt that said ‘Marine Corps,'” Sokoloski said, his voice cracking. Starr was “the kind of young man our country needs, really.”
The Defense Department said Starr was stationed with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1st Marine Division in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. Most of the victims in the helicopter crash were based in Hawaii.
When he heard that Marines in the helicopter had been stationed in Hawaii, Sokoloski said, he had a bad feeling. School officials began fielding media calls Friday once word of Starr’s death finally hit the school.
“We’re very proud of him here at Perry Hall,” Sokoloski said. Even though the school has more than 2,300 students, he said the close community would feel Starr’s loss. “He was a good kid.”
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