One of seven Marines killed Wednesday in Arizona during one of the deadliest aviation training accidents in years had a tie to Aiken.
Capt. Benjamin N. Cerniglia, 31, of Montgomery, Ala., was killed when two helicopters crashed in midair during a routine exercise and killed all aboard both aircraft, The Associated Press reported.
Cerniglia was the son of Mark Cerniglia, the pastor at Lutheran Church of Our Saviour in Greenville, S.C. Cerniglia served as interim pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Aiken from October 2008 to April 2009 while Pastor Robert Byrne was serving an exchange assignment in Japan.
“He is a very thoughtful and spiritual person,” Byrne said of Cerniglia. “He always thinks before he speaks.”
According to the Greenville church’s Web site, the Marine leaves behind two children, Ben Jr. and Ashlyn Cerniglia. Byrne added that Cerniglia is also survived by a brother.
“Pastor Cerniglia said he was in an interesting situation,” Byrne said. “He had one son who was a Marine through and through, and another that was a pacifist.”
The Marine’s memorial service was held at his father’s church Monday morning.
Byrne said he was humbled by a powerful sentiment Mark Cerniglia left on his Facebook wall Monday.
“He said God had brought him to a place where he felt prepared to bury his son,” Byrne said.
Officials said it could take weeks to determine what caused the crash.
Two of the Marines who died were aboard the AH-1W Cobra and the rest were in the UH-1 Huey utility helicopter. They were flying in a remote section of the 1.2-million-acre Yuma Training Range Complex as part of a two-week standard training called Scorpion Fire that involved a squadron of about 450 troops from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the AP said.
The church’s Web site says a scholarship fund has been established for Benjamin Cerniglia’s children. Any money donated to the church in his memory will be applied to that fund.