CRYSTAL LAKE – To his classmates and former coaches at Crystal Lake South High School, “Nate” McHone always will be an inspiration to work hard at whatever task sits before you.
“I always admired and looked up to how hard of a worker he was, and that about him was so consistent – from in the classroom to whatever athletic endeavor he was involved in,” said Ross Ryan, a fellow Crystal Lake South grad from the Class of 2001.
“You need to keep that attitude in all aspects of your life, not just one area, and he really had that down,” Ryan said.
Ryan, today a teacher at South and wrestling team coach, spoke on Saturday shortly after learning that his high school cross country team buddy – Nathan R. McHone – was one of the six United States Marines killed Thursday in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
U.S. Marine Capt. McHone was supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, when the helicopter went down, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Defense.
He was assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, the news release said.
McHone was 29.
A CH-53 pilot, he was commissioned into the Marine Corps in September 2005 and joined the squadron in October 2009. This was his second deployment to Afghanistan, the DOD news release said.
His personal awards include two Air Medals, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, and NATO ISAF Medal.
Although it had been about a decade since McHone was a student athlete, coaches from McHone’s time as a Gator remember him well.
“[McHone] was always a good teammate who wanted to make the people around him better. He worked hard at running and always wanted to be the best he could,” said Rich Eschman, boys cross country coach.
Bill Altmann, a social studies teacher at South, knew McHone as a student and a decorated athlete.
“He was always very disciplined,” Altmann said. “I’d ask him to do something and he would thank me. ...
He always did his work and he never took any shortcuts. He was always sincere and very respected.”
The crash that killed McHone was the deadliest in Afghanistan since August, when 30 American troops died after a Chinook helicopter apparently was shot down in Wardak province in the center of the country.
All six Marines killed Thursday in Helmand were from Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, base spokeswoman 1st Lt. Diann Olson said.
Also killed were Capt. Daniel Bartle, 27, of Ferndale, Wash.; Master Sgt. Travis Riddick, 40, of Centerville, Iowa; Cpl. Jesse Stites, 23, of North Beach, Md.; Cpl. Kevin Reinhard, 25, of Colonia, N.J.; and Cpl. Joseph Logan, 22, of Willis, Texas.
Bartle and McHone were the pilots of the aircraft, while Riddick was the helicopter’s crew chief.
Their squadron had been sent in August to Afghanistan as part of a seven-month deployment, Olson said.
“These men were not only experienced Marines, but they were husbands, sons, brothers and dear friends,” Olson said in a statement.
“The memories of our fallen Marines are engraved in each and every one who had the privilege to know and serve alongside them, and we will never forget the sacrifice they made to our country and our Corps,” Olson said.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, but a statement issued by the NATO international military coalition said there was no enemy activity in the area when it happened.
German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the NATO coalition in Kabul, said officials were looking at a “technical fault” as the possible culprit.
Members of McHone’s family could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.