Barely half of April is gone, but it's already one of the bloodiest months of the Iraq war for North Carolina.
The Pentagon announced Monday the deaths of five more Marines based at Camp Lejeune. That pushes the tally of troops, from this state or its military bases, killed in the war this month to 13.
There are conflicting reports of how four of the latest casualties died. According to Pentagon release, they were killed in the same explosion Saturday when their Humvee ran over an improvised bomb in Anbar Province in western Iraq. But the father of one said his son's truck was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The four were: Lance Cpl. Derrick J. Cothran, 21, of Avondale, La.; Cpl. Pablo V. Mayorga, 33, of Margate, Fla.; Lance Cpl. Justin D. Sims, 22, of Covington, Ky.; and Pfc. Ryan G. Winslow, 19, of Jefferson, Ala. Another Marine, Lance Cpl. Darin T. Settle, 23, of Henley, Mo., died Friday in a vehicle accident in Anbar.
Cothran was a high school football star, but so sickly as a child with asthma and allergies that he almost died twice before age 2. Also as a young child, he nearly drowned in a pool. After all that, said his father, Theodore Cothran, it just didn't seem possible that he could die young, even in Iraq.
"He was my million-dollar baby," his father said. "I knew about the risks and the dangers, but I never even thought about him getting killed."
At John Curtis High School in River Ridge, La., Cothran played on football teams that won three state championships, his father said. Then he won a scholarship to play at Union College in Kentucky, but after two years decided to join the Marines.
He did well in training and scored high on all the tests, his dad said, and could have had his pick of jobs, but chose one that would likely put him in combat.
"He wanted to be on the front lines, out there in the thick of it," his father said.
Cothran hoped to go back to college eventually and seek a federal law enforcement job.
He had been married nine months, in the Marines 11 months, and in Iraq three weeks when he was killed.
Survivors include: his father and mother, Elena, both of Avondale, La.; wife, Victoria; twin older siblings, Pfc. Theodore Cothran of Camp Pendleton, Calif., and Antoinette Hebert of Avondale.
Mayorga left four children behind and a fifth -- an unborn son who already bears his dad's middle name, Vinny -- expected in June, said his wife, Paola.
He had come to the United States from Ecuador when he was 18, got married, divorced, and then reunited with his Paola. They had been childhood sweethearts in Ecuador when he was 15 and she was 13.
"He was a perfect man, a perfect dad," she said. "He knew how to guide his children so well."
He was always laughing, she said, always making jokes.
Mayorga had come to the United States not because he wanted a fancy job, but because he liked the idea of the place so much, she said. He joined the military because of that, and took a front-line job when offered the choice of that or a desk slot.
Mayorga had also been in Iraq three weeks. The family bought a house two weeks before he left and, since he was a dog lover, they also got a third dog, a Great Dane.
He called his wife from Iraq hours before he was killed.
"He told me some things..." she said, before stopping to sob. Then she started back. "He told me some things about the bombs and the dangers, and that he was working 12 hours a day but the food was good."
Survivors include: his wife; daughters Stephanie, 13, Emily, 12, and Brenda, 9; and son Alexander, 7.
When Sims was at Holmes County High School in Covington, he signed up for ROTC and quickly found his future.
"The more he got into it, the more he liked it," said his father, Beechie Sims, of Cincinnati, Ohio. After graduating in 2003, his father said, "He just ate, drank, and slept Marines."
It was Sims' second tour in Iraq. The first was in 2005.
Beechie Sims said he thinks his son would have made a career of the Marines, but Saturday night, two Marines knocked on Sims' door. His son was in the machine-gun turret of a Humvee -- the most exposed position -- when a rocket-powered grenade hit.
"He was doing what he loved to do, and I'll never fault him for it," he said. Survivors include: his father; mother Alma Jones of Covington; and six sisters.
Winslow's family couldn't be reached Monday.
(News researcher Lamara Hackett contributed to this story.)
Staff writer Jay Price can be reached at 829-4526 or email@example.com.