A Marine to the end

When Pfc. Cody Calavan heard a fellow Marine get chewed out for his poor skills at firing a machine gun, Calavan quietly offered to help.

Calavan, 19, of Stanwood was one of the best machine gunners in his U.S. Marine Corps platoon, his sergeant said. And he became one of its best teachers, too, often demonstrating how to use weapons and equipment.

“He had the heart of a great leader,” said Sgt. Ronnie Ramos, who served with Calavan in Iraq.

Calavan, who was killed by a car bomb May 29 in Iraq, was remembered Tuesday for the way he cared for those who needed him on the battlefield and at home.

Calavan, who joined the Marines after graduating from Lake Stevens High School in 2003, “brought joy and laughter wherever he went,” said step- sister Kalee Calavan Craig.

“He took pride in being a Marine and everything it stood for,” she said. “Cody was not afraid of war and not afraid to die for what he believed in.”

Calavan didn’t have to go to Iraq. His whose mother, Kathy Calavan, died of breast cancer in 1997, and his younger brother, Joey, 15, was killed by a drunken driver only nine months before Calavan died in Iraq. Because he was the sole surviving son, under military rules he could have turned down the Iraq assignment.

But he strongly supported the war in Iraq and chose to serve with his platoon – a decision that his family supported.

“Right now, we’re going to hurt, but we can go on because we know Cody finished what he needed to finish,” stepmother Pamela Calavan said. “That gives us comfort. It’s just that we miss him so darned much.”

She and her stepson became closer after Joey’s death, she said. She frequently told him she loved him, and prayed for him every day.

“With Joey, there was so much left to say. With Cody, I felt like I said it,” Pamela Calavan said.

Cody Calavan’s death is easier to accept than his brother’s, family members said.

“I had three grandsons, and now I have one,” grandmother Ruth Puttkamer said. “Cody and his father knew this was a very dangerous mission, but he knew this was what he wanted to do.”

Friend Levi Stringfellow, 19, of Lake Stevens said he decided to join the U.S. Navy after Calavan became a Marine.

“Cody had a huge heart,” Stringfellow said, recalling how Calavan paid Stringfellow’s hospital bill during a trip to Mexico. “He’d do anything for his friends. He just loved to help.”

Even while he was in Iraq, his letters to friend Amy Laskey, 19, of Lake Stevens focused on encouraging her, she said.

“He was over there in terrible conditions, but he still cared so much,” she said. “He was so giving.”

Calavan was also a practical joker, friends said. He once piled up about 30 road signs on a friend’s car. Another time, he drove a friend to Seattle to try to win a radio contest for her.

“He taught me that we need to be able to laugh at ourselves,” sister-in-law Kristi Craig said.

Calavan, who earned the top physical fitness score in his unit at boot camp, strove for perfection, his stepsister said – even with his hair. “Every piece had to be in place,” Calavan Craig said with a smile.

Cody Calavan died of injuries he suffered from a car bomb that exploded as the Humvee he was riding in passed by, Ramos said. Two other members of his platoon also died.

Calavan was the second serviceman from Snohomish County to be killed in Iraq. Justin Hebert of Silvana died Aug. 1 when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Humvee he was driving. He was 20.

Calavan’s name will be added to the Lake Stevens war memorial downtown, where a ceremony was held Tuesday. A Marine presented Calavan’s father, David Calavan, with a U.S. Marine Corps flag.

“We felt it was important as a community to realize that one of our graduates died serving his country,” Lake Stevens Mayor Lynn Walty said. “Cody’s spirit is not gone … he will be remembered for all his smiles and laughs and jokes and the commitment he showed.”

Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or schiffner@heraldnet.com.

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