Thursday, February 07, 2008 By Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Two decorated Navy SEALs, both 29 and both with Pennsylvania ties, died in the same action in Iraq on Monday in which a third SEAL was injured.
Michael E. Koch of State College, Centre County, and Nathan H. Hardy of New Hampshire, whose family once lived in Moon, were killed by small-arms fire while battling insurgents, the Navy said.
Their immediate relatives were visiting the SEAL East Coast base in Hampton Roads, Va., yesterday, and the Navy said they would not be available.
Petty Officer Koch, whose father, Donald Koch, is a retired U.S. Air Force veteran in Coudersport, Potter County, was last home at Christmas to visit relatives in the Williamsport area.
"I was so thankful that we had that time together," said his grandmother, Dolores Koch, 74, of Jersey Shore, Lycoming County. "The last thing I said to him was, 'Be careful.' He said, 'I am, Gram.' "
The Navy would not release any details of how he or Chief Petty Officer Hardy died.
Petty Officer Koch, who joined the Navy in 1998 after attending Penn State for a year-and-a-half, didn't reveal anything about his missions, his family said.
Nor did he discuss the medals he won, including the Bronze Star. Both men earned that medal and wore it proudly.
"He never talked about all these decorations I'm reading about," said Mrs. Koch.
Both men had served in Afghanistan and Kosovo before deploying to Iraq, and both came from families with strong traditions in the armed forces.
Petty Officer Koch was born on an Air Force base in Nebraska, as was his sister, Tiffany Barnard, 24, and grew up on bases around the country. His father had recently returned from his job with a military contractor in Iraq, where Petty Officer Koch's brother, Matthew Koch, 26, has also been working after a six-year Navy career.
In addition, Petty Officer Koch's mother, Jean Ann Burkholder of Corinth, Texas, is serving in Afghanistan as an accountant for a U.S. contractor.
She was en route to Hampton Roads this week while Matthew flew home with his brother's body.
In addition to his family, Petty Officer Koch left behind his fiancee of eight years, Kathy Howell, of Virginia Beach, Va.
Petty Officer Hardy, the father of a 7-month-old son, Parker, with his wife, Mindi, had a similar military pedigree.
Both his grandfathers served in World War II, one of them aboard PT-109 in the Pacific with John F. Kennedy.
Growing up hearing tales of the famous torpedo boat, cut in half by a Japanese destroyer, he had wanted to join the Navy ever since the sixth grade. He enlisted in 1997 after graduating from high school in Durham, N.H.
His parents, Stephen and Donna Hardy, had already endured the heartache of losing a child. Petty Officer Hardy's older brother, Josh, died of brain cancer in 1993 while a senior in high school. Another older brother, Ben, lives in Vermont.
The family had lived in Moon during the 1980s, when Stephen Hardy headed the sports management program at what was then called Robert Morris College, from 1982 to 1988.
They moved when he took a job at the University of New Hampshire, where he is a professor of kinesiology. His mother is an administrative assistant in the school's psychology department.
"We know it was Nate's dream to become a U.S. Navy SEAL when he graduated from high school, and he pursued that dream and excelled at it," University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston said in a statement. "His death has stunned all who knew him, and all who know his parents, who both are so much a part of the UNH community."
In Virginia, the news hit the SEAL community hard. The SEALs consider themselves a brotherhood; there are only about 2,500 of them.
"Chief Michael Koch and Chief Nathan Hardy were ... brave SEALs, honored teammates and great Americans," their commanding officer said in a press release. "They paid the ultimate sacrifice in the fight against the enemies of our great nation."
Nathan H.Hardy and son
As of Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008, at least 3,947 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes eight military civilians. At least 3,212 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.
The AP count is two higher than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Tuesday at 10 a.m. EST.
The British military has reported 174 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia, three; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, South Korea, one death each.
Since the start of U.S. military operations in Iraq, 29,092 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action, according to the Defense Department's weekly tally.
The latest deaths reported by the military: No deaths reported. The latest identifications reported by the military:
- Army Spc. Christopher J. West, 26, Arlington, Texas; died Monday in Balad of wounds suffered from an explosive Sunday in Muqdadiyah; assigned to the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
- Two sailors died Monday from wounds suffered from small-arms fire in Iraq. Both were assigned to East Coast-based SEAL teams in Virginia Beach, Va.
Killed were Naval Chief Petty Officer Michael E. Koch, 29, State College, Pa., and Naval Chief Petty Officer Nathan H. Hardy, 29, Durham, N.H.
Nathan Hardy, the Navy SEAL who died while trying to shut down an al-Qaida suicide bomber cell in Iraq, was remembered by President George Bush in his Memorial Day address to the nation yesterday.
"I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that allow a free civilization to endure and flourish," Bush said at Arlington National Cemetery. "It only remains for us, the heirs of their legacy, to have the courage and the character to follow their lead and to preserve America as the greatest nation on Earth and the last, best hope for mankind."HARDY
Bush eulogized all U.S. troops who died serving their country, but particularly those who lost their lives this past year.
Hardy, 29, of Durham, was on his fourth tour of duty in Iraq when he was killed on Feb. 4 during a firefight. He left behind a wife, Mindi; a son, Parker, who will turn 2 next month; his parents, Stephen, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, and Donna, an administrative assistant in UNH's psychology department; and a brother, Benjamin, 30. Hardy's oldest brother, Josh, died of brain cancer in 1993.
Hardy was killed while trying to drag his friend and fellow SEAL, Chief Petty Officer Mike Koch of State College, Pa., to safety. Both men died.
Bush mentioned the two soldiers often headed into battle wearing American flags on their chests under their uniforms.
Stephen Hardy, Nathan's father, said his son and Koch had been part of the same unit for about a year.
"The President captured the relationship between Mike and Nate," Stephen Hardy said. "They were just two similar guys and they loved each other; they worked out together and trained together."
The two are buried side by side at Arlington National Cemetery.
Nathan Hardy's father said his son wanted to be a Navy SEAL since he was in sixth grade and his determination never flagged. He enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school in 1997. He previously served in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo.
"There are lucky people who find their calling early in life," Stephen Hardy said. "My son was looking forward to as long a career in the Navy SEALs as he could have."
Hardy's maternal grandfather, Charles Bucky Harris, served with John F. Kennedy on the PT-109 during World War II. Kennedy saved Harris' life and that of numerous other men when a Japanese destroyer sank their boat in August 1943. Hardy's paternal grandfather served in the U.S. Marines and fought at the battle of Iwo Jima.
Hardy said Mindi was recently asked if the President could mention Nathan in a speech, and she gave permission, although she was told the President had several other options. Yesterday morning, Mindi received another phone call, this one urging her to watch the President's televised speech.
"We certainly are proud of Nate," Stephen Hardy said. "We're proud of all the men and women of all ages who serve their country, particularly those who have lost their lives."http://www.unionleader.com/article.aspx?headline=Bush+words+honor+Navy+SEAL&articleId=350734ce-3b1d-46d2-b248-d959c4114609