Military plane crash victims: ‘These were the cream of the crop’

Posted at 8:04 AM, Jul 13, 2017

A painter who loved to fly, a father who married his high school sweetheart, and a former football star who was living his dream of being in the Navy were among the 16 service members killed in Monday’s military plane crash in Mississippi.

Families of the victims have been notified, and a full list of victims should be released in coming days, said Marines Brig. Gen. Bradley James.

“Do me a favor,” Lynda Kundrat, the mother of one of the victims, told CNN. “Tell their story. All of their stories. Tell the stories of the brother Marines that are on the crash site combing for every piece of every person on that plane.”

Here are some of those stories:

Brendan Johnson

Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson once told his dad, “I got the best job in the Marine Corps.” Johnson was a loadmaster, helping to manage the cargo in the back of the planes. After graduating from Johnson State College in Vermont, he joined the Marine Corps in 1994. Throughout his career he flew to Europe, Africa, and South Asia as well as active war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I’d much rather be flying than doing excel spreadsheets,” he told his father.

Despite his busy schedule, he still found time for his passion of fine art, painting portraits of retired military families in his spare time. Johnson was married and most recently living with his wife in New York. They did not have any kids. He was planning on retiring from the military next year.

William Joseph Kundrat

Staff Sgt. William Joseph Kundrat, 33, was the son of a Marine, but “he didn’t follow in his dad’s footsteps, he marked his own path,” his mother, Lynda Kundrat, told CNN.

“You breathe every breath you take into your lungs because you are American,” she said. “And with every breath in their body — a Marine will fight for you. My son was one of those Marines. He’s my hero.”

A native of Frederick, Maryland, Kundrat was known to friends and family as “Billy Joe.”

His mother said he had an infectious smile and was in love with his wife, who was his high school sweetheart. The couple had two children.

“My son was a warrior. My son was trained very well to be a Marine,” Kundrat’s mother said. “These were the elite. These were the cream of the crop. The loss of these 16 people are immense.”

Ryan Lohrey

Navy Corpsman Ryan Lohrey, 30, a native of Middletown, Indiana, was a medic identified by US Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana on Wednesday.

“Ryan served our country with honor and we are grateful for his selfless service,” Donnelly said on his web page. “He will be missed, and I send my condolences and prayers to his family and friends.”

Lohrey graduated high school in 2005 where he was a football star who was determined to become an elite Navy SEAL. Lohrey’s former high school teacher and football coach, Brent Kinsey, remembered him as stand out person.

“One of those kids that you just don’t kind of forget,” Kinsey told CNN affiliate WISH. “He made a great impact on our school community.”

Lohrey’s high school year book picture came with the quote, “Live life the fullest you can. You never know when it could end.”

Kinsey said Lohrey did just that.

“He did live life everyday to the fullest. It’s ironic,” he said. “I hope we all do that.”

Dan Baldassare

Dan Baldassare, a Marine from Colts Neck, New Jersey, was identified as a victim of the plane crash in a tweet from Monmouth County. “We are forever grateful for his service,” the tweet read.