LAKE STEVENS — Growing up, Dustin and Mitch Canham had their share of brotherly brawls.
Sometimes, when Dustin would get the best of his older brother, Mitch would put on his best but forced smile to downplay how much he hurt inside.
The older brother couldn’t hide his pain on Saturday.
U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Dustin L. Canham, 21, died a week ago today in what the Defense Department called “a nonhostile incident.” He was serving on the east African coast with a reserve unit based in Portland, Ore.
On Saturday, about 300 people gathered to remember Canham at a memorial held at Elim Lutheran Church in Lake Stevens. His casket sat in front of the church sanctuary, surrounded by flowers and draped with an American flag.
“He was 10 times the man I was, 10 times the man that I will ever be,” Mitch, 23, said at the service.
The Marine Corps said the incident that caused Canham’s death is under investigation. Dustin Canham is the 17th military person with a connection to Snohomish or Island counties to die during the last five years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three of the dead graduated from or attended Lake Stevens High School.
Dustin Canham was assigned to Marine Forces Reserve’s 6th Engineer Support Battalion, 4th Marine Logistic Group. His unit is in eastern Africa supporting military operations against terrorism and conducting humanitarian projects in the region. Friends and family said he left for Djibouti, a small country between Somalia and Eritrea, less than two weeks ago.
At Saturday’s memorial, Canham was described as a young man who wasn’t afraid to live and love. They said he cherished his 19-year-old bride, Devyn Canham, who he married five months ago.
Dustin, a 2004 Lake Stevens High School graduate, was raised in Lake Stevens with his brother, Mitch. Their half-brother, John Kendall, now 24, was with them part of the time. Their parents separated when the boys were young. Their mother died in 2003.
Ryan MacBriar, a longtime friend of Dustin’s, said he regarded the fallen Marine as a brother. He fondly recalled a time they went to play paintball together — Canham was a national-caliber paintball player — and Canham got the best of MacBriar, shooting him with a paintball from behind.
MacBriar gave up, raising his arms over his head.
“To my surprise, one more hit me right in the back,” MacBriar said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
“You’re not going to find too many people in this world who are as genuine, as nice,” he said.
Mark Canham, Dustin’s father, said he felt as if his life was over after finding out his son was dead.
When the Marines brought his body home, Mark Canham went to go see his son. What he saw was a shell, where Dustin’s soul used to be, he said.
The thought brought him peace.
“He’s with God; he’s there, I can’t fight that,” Mark Canham said. “I only hope I can make myself a better person, to be with him.”
The audience watched a video showing footage of Dustin walking around in diapers as a toddler, then dancing and goofing around in front of the family Christmas tree as a young boy. A photo slideshow showed pictures of him when he was older, dressed up with friends for his high school homecoming and standing on a sunny beach with Devyn.
The slideshow ended with a video of Dustin singing the chorus of “You Are My Sunshine.”
Dustin had life figured out, Mitch Canham said.
“I am always going to be sitting at home, thinking about him,” he said. “If anyone wants to know who I look up to most in my life, it’s Dustin.”
Reporter Scott Pesznecker: 425-339-3436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.