Marine dies trying to save others

His special mission: Warn Iraqis, help them flee attacks

November 16, 2004

BY JOEL THURTELL and CECIL ANGEL
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

As U.S. forces prepared to invade Fallujah, Iraq, Justin Ellsworth was tapped for a secret mission.

The 20-year-old was a trained demolition expert but the special reconnaissance unit he was chosen for would be sent ahead into the city to save lives. Ellsworth's job was to go from house to house to warn civilians about the pending raid and then help them evacuate.

"They were sneaking into the city getting civilians out at night," his father, John Ellsworth of Wixom, said Thursday. "I truly believe he was born for this and obviously, he died for this."

Justin Mark Ellsworth, a Marine lance corporal from Mt. Pleasant, was among four soldiers killed Saturday by a roadside bomb in Fallujah. Ellsworth was a member of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force's Combat Service Support Battalion, based in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

His platoon built sea huts and cement bunkers, and performed other construction work, his father said.

Ellsworth, a 2003 graduate of Mt. Pleasant Senior High School, chose the Marines so he could get construction training. He planned to get a loan to set up his own company after he left, his father said.

During the last few weeks, he had been pulled out of his platoon and placed with a reconnaissance unit, John Ellsworth said. "Justin was very proud of the fact that he was chosen for this special duty."

He was "out doing 'real Marine work,' as he called it," the father said. He said his son told him "all the guys are jealous."

Justin Ellsworth didn't tell his father what his special mission involved, but he gave hints. He once said that "he could put the faces to the number of lives he was saving."

Father and son last spoke on Nov. 3 at 12:30 p.m. "He wanted me to know he loved me and that he was thinking about me, and he would call me after Thanksgiving, after things calmed down," John Ellsworth said.

On Saturday evening, there was knock on John Ellsworth's door. "When I got to the door and saw two Marines there, I knew," he said. "I wish I could have traded places with him."

John Ellsworth, a sergeant with the Wolverine Lake Police Department, remembered his son as an avid hockey and football player.

He would tell his father how upset he was about media accounts the war. " 'Dad, we're making a difference to these people,' " his father said he would say during their frequent e-mail and telephone calls.

"He was saving lives every day," John Ellsworth said.

The military said Sunday said that nearly 40 U.S. troops had been killed and 275 wounded in the operation to gain control of Fallujah, in the Al Anbar Province.

Ellsworth is the 37th member of the military with known Michigan ties to die in Iraq.

"I loved the fact that he was good at what he did," John Ellsworth said of his son. "He was an amazing young man."

Born in Lansing, Justin Ellsworth weathered many changes in his life.

He lived with his mother, Tracy Ross, after his parents divorced. When she moved from Mt. Pleasant to Colorado with his stepfather, Jim Ross, and siblings Jared Loveberry, Nicholas Loveberry and Travis Loveberry, Justin Ellsworth went along. They lived on a ranch, and it was after that experience that John Ellsworth began referring to his son as a cowboy.

"He was a cowboy," he said. "He was one of these people would try anything. ... He wasn't afraid to live life."

But for his last year of high school, Justin Ellsworth told his parents, he wanted to graduate from Mt. Pleasant Senior High School. He moved back to Michigan and lived on his own. John Ellsworth said he was proud of how his son got himself to school every day and did well academically.

Although he was somewhat small in stature, at 5-foot-6 and 160 pounds, Justin Ellsworth was very athletic, his father said. He played football in high school as a safety and a linebacker, and was a defenseman for the Mt. Pleasant Diamondbacks hockey league.

John Ellsworth said the last special time he and his son spent together was on July 16, Justin Ellsworth's birthday. He had returned home for two weeks, and father and son went camping in the Antrim County Park, north of Traverse City, as they had done every year since he was a baby.

Last modified date and time: 01/17/2005 8:41