Solemn music rang out over the Marine Corps Air Station in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, on Friday afternoon during a memorial service for 12 Marines lost to the ocean in last week’s collision of two helicopters during a training exercise.

Sgt. Dillon Semolina, 24, who most recently had lived in Chaska, was on board one of two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters that collided off the north coast of Oahu on Jan. 14. The Coast Guard suspended the search for them on Jan 19.

Groups of Marines placed a dozen rifles, vests, boots, and helmets on a dozen crosses at the service, a military tradition, followed by a rendition of the national anthem and a prayer.

Lt. Col. Eric Purcell, commanding officer of the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, thanked members of the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy, Army, Marines, as well as Honolulu police and firefighters, for their help in the dayslong search and rescue effort.

Purcell spoke about each of the Marines: Semolina, Maj. Shawn Campbell, Capt. Brian Kennedy, Capt. Kevin Roche, Capt. Steven Torbert, Sgt. Adam Schoeller, Sgt. Jeffrey Sempler, Sgt. William Turner, Cpl. Matthew Drown, Cpl. Thomas Jardas, Cpl. Christopher Orlando and Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart.

Twelve Marines then offered eulogies to the 12 men, followed by a 21-gun salute.

As the memorial was underway, a search for the downed aircraft continued on the other side of the island. The recovery effort is being conducted from a command post at Haleiwa Alii Beach Park, which remains closed.

After the service, friends and families of the Marines approached the crosses to share memories, hugs and tears.

Semolina graduated from Delano High School, where he played football.

After the crash, his family created a page, “Bring Dillon to us.” Donors have given more than $16,000 to the campaign, which had a goal of gathering $10,000 to help with expenses to send his parents to Hawaii.

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions and investigations,” said a message on the page, “but today we’ll pause and celebrate Dillon’s life. Today Dillon will fly in the arms of the angels.”

Some donors left messages of support on the page.

“You and yours are in my prayers. I thank your son for serving our country,” one donor wrote.

The largest donation was made by the local chapter of the Leathernecks Motorcycle Club, a group of veteran and active duty Marine Corps and Fleet Marine Force Corpsman that ride motorcycles across the country.

“From all the Leathernecks of the Hell Hound Chapter, Leathernecks MC. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Semper Fi,” they wrote.

Hawaiian Gov. David Ige has ordered flags flown at half-staff through next Tuesday in honor of the 12 Marines.


Benjamin Farniok is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.