Harrisburg Marine killed in Fallujah

By Gus Bode

Third Southern Illinois soldier killed in Iraq

The impact of what was supposed to be the heaviest urban warfare since the Vietnam War hit close to home Wednesday when a 20-year-old Marine from Harrisburg was killed in the 10,000 troop strong offensive in Fallujah, his family said.

Aaron Pickering was killed in a gunfight two months past his one-year anniversary of joining the Marines, two weeks after his 20th birthday and two months after arriving in Iraq.

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Pickering is the third U.S. Marine from Southern Illinois who has been killed in Iraq. Lnc. Cpl. Drew Uhles, 20, of Du Quoin and Sgt. Benjamin Smith, 24, of Carterville were both killed in September in the Al-Anbar province, near the Syrian border.

Three other Marines from Illinois died in Iraq this week.

The news of Pickering’s death arrived at the door of his father’s Harrisburg home at 5:30 a.m. Thursday-Veteran’s Day- a day nationally recognized to remember those who have fought for the country.

And according to Pickering’s grandfather, the 2003 Harrisburg High School graduate was proud to be a marine.

“He volunteered because that’s what he wanted to do,” he said. “He did it for this country.”

But he was just a child, Pickering’s grandfather said explaining he had just turned 20 on Oct. 28. Many of Pickering’s friends and family said that he acted like a typical young man.

Besides hunting and fishing with his father, Carl, a Saline County correctional officer and volunteer firefighter, Robbie Nicholes said the free spirited Marine loved playing golf.

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Nicholes, Pickering’s high school golf coach and family friend, said he talked to Pickering about four months ago when he called from Hawaii.

“He was getting ready to go on a tour of the Pacific and he thought he was going to be on that side,” Nicholes said. “When I talked to him he had no knowledge that he was of going to Iraq-his plans obviously changed.”

Flags were lowered to half-staff Wednesday in the town of about 9,000 to honor the young marine, who fellow 2003 graduate Kate Nelson said was one of the friendliest and most outgoing people she knew.

“I’ve never heard anyone say that they didn’t like him,” Nelson said. “He was just a really nice, fun-loving carefree guy.”

Nelson said she often spent time with Pickering out on the golf course sharing inside jokes, which she said she would always remember.

Pickering lived with his mother, Lisa Short in Marion before moving to Harrisburg to attend high school his junior year, principal Jim Butler said.

Butler said he was proud of Pickering for joining the Marines and remembers the last time he saw Pickering.

“After Aaron joined the military, he came back to the high school in his uniform after he completed boot camp,” Butler said. “He was really proud of himself and proud of his status and proud of his uniform and we shared that pride.”

Butler said after hearing the news, he contacted school officials, but did not get a chance to notify students because school was out of session for Veteran’s Day and they would not return until Monday.

Butler said the city is planning a memorial service, but because the family is unsure of when Pickering’s body would return to Harrisburg, no date has been set for a funeral or memorial service.

“This is not something you will forget and it’s not something you get over, you just learn to deal with it,” Butler said. “Unfortunately, we have lost many students and it’s a tragic event no matter when it happens.”

Pickering was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, C Company based in Okinawa, Japan, family said, but were unsure of his position.

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