Lance Corporal Benjamin Gearheart Marines August 27, 1997
Amazing Grace carries softly through the air as I begin to research the life and service of Lance Corporal Benjamin Gearheart – one of the many memoriam pages played this sweet melody on a loop. It’s one of my favorite songs and a one that has become a marker for pivotal moments in my military career. As I hear the harp play, I feel the importance of Gearheart’s story, the weight of it.
He lived a full life of twenty-two years. He was a wrestler, a writer, a movie buff and a comedian. Gearheart’s dream was to attend film school upon high school graduation but his heart called him to service. As a third generation Marine, he set aside his passion for film, and instead followed his calling.
Gearheart wanted to serve where he could create the largest impact – on the front lines and at the front of every mission – as an Infantryman and Recon Marine. He had a storied career which includes the coveted title of Golden Shellback. It’s earned when crossing the equator by ship at the International Date Line – the 180th meridian and is something that few get the opportunity to do.
After a deployment to Kuwait and a safe return home, it was a training accident that took his life. As all veterans know, we train exactly how we fight, creating comfort and ease in moments of chaos. Danger lurks patiently in every moment when one decides to don the U.S. military uniform but so many do it with pride and honor as Gearheart did. He was training in a mountainous area of Camp Pendleton and traveling in a light armored vehicle (LAV) when it slid down a steep mountainside. It was a tragic surprise to his family to hear of the accident, that it was fatal, and that it happened on U.S. soil.
I know that feeling after the loss of unit mates from my own deployments once we returned to the states. It’s easier to process death when it happens in a way you have braced yourself for – in combat, overseas. Not here, not in moments of peace.
Gearheart’s time in service was marked by compassion, humor, and faith. He shared those qualities with all who crossed his path. His battle buddies shared stories of the grill stationed outside of his barracks and how anyone who missed a meal could knock on his door. He kept a library of movies for the entertainment of others, bringing his passion for film full circle. It was an honor system, and the collection began to grow from the patrons of his lending film library.
He stood his ground to defend his values and always fought for the underdog, even putting himself on the receiving end of punishment, at times. Not only was service important to Gearheart, it’s important to us all.
We thank you for helping us to honor the sacrifice made by those who raised their right hands and swore to defend our country against enemies foreign and domestic. When you run for a fallen servicemember, you are helping to keep their memory and their story alive. Each Wednesday we will share the story of those we honor – because we are grateful for your commitment to them and we are grateful for their sacrifice.
By Nicole Smart
US Army Veteran | Photojournalist
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