1st LT. Jared M. Landaker

1st Lt. Jared M. Landaker of Big Bear, California was working toward a physics degree at the University of La Verne when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks led him to join the Marine Corps.  The 25-year-old Big Bear High School graduate completed flight school near the top of his class, meaning he could have flown any aircraft he wanted. Rather than fly jets, he chose helicopters.

Landaker was killed Feb. 7, 2007, when a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter was hit by insurgents and crashed in Iraq’s Anbar province, killing all seven aboard.  “What he was doing everyday was waiting for a buzzer to go off to go save a Marine’s life. He ended up dying doing that,” said longtime friend 1st Lt. Matt Jackson, 27, of Orange who flies helicopters for the Army.  Landaker was assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, at Camp Pendleton.

On Monday, Landaker was buried at Riverside National Cemetery, where his coffin was carried past dozens of California Highway Patrol officers, fellow Marines and others. Landaker’s father is a retired CHP officer and former Marine.  At a reception afterward in downtown Riverside, friends and family shared memories of Landaker.  Despite his early desire to fly jets, there was just something about CH-46 pilots that drew him into flying the aging twin-rotor helicopters, those who knew him said. Those are the pilots who make sure Marines get back from battle.  

“He was not only a hero, he was a great son,” his father Joseph Landaker said. “This guy did more in 25 years than most of us will do in 75 years.”

When Jared logged into his MySpace.com page Feb. 4, the helicopter pilot had less than two weeks left in his Iraq tour.  Three days later, his friends in California were already planning for his Feb. 15 homecoming. One of them, a Coast Guard pilot named Marc, wrote on Landaker’s profile, “Get you’re a-- back here ... enjoy your last week in the sandbox.”  Landaker, 25, was killed that same day. His CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter was shot down Feb. 7 during a casualty evacuation, according to Marine officials. All seven aboard — five Marines and two sailors — were killed.  By the time the Defense Department announced Landaker’s death Feb. 12, word had already spread through MySpace, and the lieutenant’s buddies had already posted 16 comments to “J-Rod” on his page.  “I just can’t come to terms with this,” wrote Shannon Meketarian, Landaker’s friend since third grade. “When are you going to pop out around the corner and laugh at us for making such a fuss over you?”

Landaker’s friends are part of a generation of people who communicate with their peers through social networking web sites like MySpace.  When they log on to MySpace, his picture is still there, his head slightly tilted, smiling back at them from their friends list.  On his profile, Landaker is still a helicopter pilot “living the dream” in “beautiful Iraq,” listening to Social Distortion and Metallica.

And his profile will stay that way.  MySpace officials said in a statement that the company does not delete profiles due to inactivity. It also “does not allow anyone to assume control of a deceased user’s profile” in order to protect the member’s privacy.  That means the “last login” date on the user’s profile — along with everything posted there — will never change. A subtle detail for some, the unchanging date is a glaring reminder of finality for others.  Before Landaker’s funeral in Big Bear, Calif., “I almost didn’t believe it,” Meketarian said. “I kept expecting him to log back on.”

In the three weeks following Landaker’s death, his friends posted 38 comments on his profile — messages to a friend who, even as they prepared for his funeral, they could still reach through their computer screens.  For them, the MySpace profile has become the virtual equivalent of the boots, rifle and helmet of a military memorial ceremony, their words the electronic form of a small memento left at a gravesite.  It’s an electronic monument for a war that doesn’t yet have a tangible one.  “Maybe they have MySpace in heaven and you can read this,” Marc wrote. “You are and will always be in my memory every time I fly, take a sip of Captain Morgan ... ride a motorcycle ... salute the flag, mow on some Whataburger or Denny’s at 2 a.m.,” he wrote.  

“The last few days have been really hard on all of us over here,” wrote “Gary Indiana,” a pilot with Landaker’s unit, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 at Camp Pendleton, Calif.  “It hurts so bad to come in to work every day knowing that I won’t see you. A part of all of us went down on [the helicopter] that day.”

Though a profile could be inactive for years without being deleted, MySpace officials said the company will delete a member’s profile at the family’s request.  Landaker’s parents, Joe and Laura, check his MySpace page every day, according to Meketarian. She said they’ll “definitely leave it up.”  Meketarian, who helped Landaker’s parents plan his funeral, said that other Marines and their families she knows in San Clemente, Calif., are doing the same.  “All the guys down there have MySpace,” Meketarian said. “And their buddies that have been killed, their families have kept their pages up,” she said.  For Meketarian, MySpace turned into a tool for bringing together Landaker’s friends. “I have hundreds of messages from the past two weeks,” Meketarian said. She posted bulletins while planning Landaker’s funeral to keep her friends in the loop. “Then they’d repost the bulletin for all their friends to see, and their friends’ friends would repost them,” she said.

About 800 people showed up Feb. 17 for Landaker’s memorial — something she never could have made happen with phone calls and e-mails alone, Meketarian said. “It was unbelievable,” she said. “But that’s what MySpace has become.”

A stretch of local highway has been named in Jared's memory.          


FindaGrave memorial

Myspace tribute

Iraq War Heroes tribute