As long as anyone can remember, Adam Van Alstine wanted to be a United States Marine. Last year, his dream came true. But it didn’t last long for the native of Superior’s East End. On Saturday, along a road in Ramadi, Iraq, Lance Cpl. Van Alstine, 21, died when a bomb exploded. Three other members of his unit were injured, friends and family confirmed Monday. Violence in the war-torn country has surged over the past week. “All I know is that he was on patrol. We don’t know what happened,” Van Alstine’s sister, Dawn “Dee” Meyers, said in a phone interview with the News Tribune. Van Alstine was the top gunner on a Humvee, but the four-man squad may have been out of the vehicle when the bomb exploded, friends and family members said.
Marine Corps officials told Meyers of her brother’s death Saturday evening at her Cottage Grove, Minn., home. The Department of Defense had not publicly confirmed the death as of Monday afternoon. Van Alstine is the first Superior native to die in the Iraq war. Superior Mayor Dave Ross on Monday ordered all city flags flown at half-staff. Meyers had been exchanging almost daily e-mails and phone calls with her brother since he arrived in Iraq in September. He had been in good spirits, she said, adding that most of the fighting in recent days had been in northern Iraq, not western Iraq where he was stationed.
Meyers described her brother as happy, humorous and extremely patriotic. He loved to hunt, fish and spend time in the outdoors, and his skills with a hunting rifle helped him earn marksmanship honors in the Marines. “One of his teachers told me that he talked about being a Marine when he was in the third grade,” Meyers said. “He definitely knew at 16 he wanted to go in the infantry… He made the changes in his life he needed to get in and, at age 19, he went in, to be on the ground on the front lines. That’s just always what he wanted to do.” In December, when Meyers told her brother she was expecting a baby, Van Alstine sent her and her husband, Darin, a handmade card: “He or she is the reason why I do what I do without thinking twice about it,” he wrote in the card. “So he or she can enjoy the greatest country in the world… ” Van Alstine moved to the Twin Cities to live with his sister after graduation and entered the Marines in November 2004, said Pastor Corrine Anton of Central Assembly of God Church in Superior. Van Alstine’s mother, Mary Theresa Garrity, died in 2003 at the age of 46, just months before his graduation from Superior High School. Van Alstine’s father died before he was born.
“He had troubles with alcohol and drugs, with finding his path, like a lot of kids do at that age. But he got over it and righted himself,” Anton said. “He was very proud to graduate and he told me how he knew his mom would have been so proud.” Funeral services for Van Alstine have not been set but will be held at Central Assembly, Anton said. Dan Lewis, who lives on Island Lake near Duluth, volunteered to mentor Van Alstine when he was in his troubled early teens. The men remained close. Lewis, a former Marine, said Van Alstine’s goal to become a Marine was in part inspired by a relative who had been a Marine and a great uncle who was an Ojibwe chief. “I don’t think he ever realized how bad off his situation was at times growing up. He went through a lot as a kid.
But he had a great attitude and a great smile. He had an infectious personality,” Lewis said. “I wasn’t sure he was going to make his dream a reality. He had to overcome his mom’s (dying) and being raised in a single-mother house. But he did it.” Van Alstine was an active boxer and trained at Horton’s Gym in Duluth. “He was a little red-haired,freckle-faced kid, and he didn’t look intimidating,” said his sister Jennifer Van Alstine of Superior. “He was mild-mannered and polite, but he’d kick the bejesus out of these guys.”
Chuck Horton coached Van Alstine in boxing. “He came in as a little boy, and kept popping in and out of the gym,” Horton said. “Adam has such a good spirit, nothing could get him down. Life kept throwing him hardballs, and he would just face them. He was a sweet kid.” Horton said boxing was a rite of passage for Van Alstine and that he seemed to raise himself in a lot of ways, “but there were a lot of good people in Adam’s life,” Horton said. Van Alstine’s brother, Michael Garrity, 19, of Superior, said Van Alstine would have done anything to get into the Marines. “He fought knuckle and teeth to get in.
That was his lifelong dream. It’s what got him through, having that goal,” Garrity said. Van Alstine was last in Superior in August when he visited with family and friends, including members of the “East End boys.” One of the “boys,” Randal Wuorinen, 21, said the guys grew up together in that part of town, and bore tattoos of their group nickname. Van Alstine “was always in high spirits,” Wuorinen said. “He was the strongest person that I ever knew.”
Violence across Iraq flared over the past week with more than 200 people killed, the Washington Post reported Monday. Several American soldiers and Marines have been killed in recent days as Shiite and Sunni factions clashed. The situation was called close to a civil war by U.S. and Iraqi officials until a curfew was imposed over the weekend that is credited with slowing the fighting. More than 2,290 Americans have died in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003. Van Alstine was expected to return to the U.S. in April and had just 15 days of active combat duty remaining, his family said. Meyers said he probably would have volunteered to go back out of sense of duty.
“I’m mostly going to miss his heart,” Garrity said. “He had a big heart. He’d want people to know that he’s looking down on them and that everything is going to be all right.”
Lance Cpl. Adam John VanAlstine, 21, formerly of Superior, died Saturday, Feb. 25, 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq, the result of a roadside bomb.
He was born Nov. 2, 1984, in Duluth, son of Mary Garrity and John VanAlstine. Ever since an early age it was Adam’s goal to become a Marine. One of his teachers said that he talked about becoming a Marine when he was in the third grade. He was a member of the Bad River Band of Chippewa Indians, and it was in part because of a great uncle who was an Ojibwa chief and another relative that was a Marine that inspired Adam to become one, too. Adam was a 2003 graduate of Superior Senior High School. After graduation he moved to the Twin Cities to live with his sister and entered the Marines in 2004. Some of Adam’s interests included boxing, hunting, fishing and being outdoors.
Preceding him in death were his parents, John VanAlstine and Mary Garrity; paternal grandparents, Andrew and Leola VanAlstine and maternal grandparents, Paul and Lorraine Garrity.
Survivors include sisters, Julie Goodell, Superior, Jennifer VanAlstine, Superior and Dawn (Darin) Duffy Meyers, Cottage Grove, Minn.; brother, Michael Garrity, Superior; four nieces, a nephew and a godchild; step-father, Don Marek, South Range; mentor, Daniel Lewis, Duluth; several aunts, uncles and cousins; and many special friends including Nicole and Danielle Heytens and all of the “East End Boys.”
US MARINE CORPS
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Lance Cpl. Adam J. Vanalstine of Superior, WI: “Lance Cpl. Vanalstine’s death reminds us of the sacrifice the men and women of our armed forces are willing to make each day to protect this country. Maria and I wish to extend our sympathies to Adam’s family, friends and fellow Marines. He will be fondly remembered by all who knew him.” Vanalstine, 21, died Feb. 25 as a result of injuries sustained from an improvised explosive device in Ar Ramadi, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Twentynine Palms, CA. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force. In honor of Lance Cpl. Vanalstine, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.