'Mystery Marine' inspires community that now hopes to inspire those he left behind
Hundreds lined State Route 610 in Stafford County, Va. — at the busy intersection of Shelton Shop Road, in front of Sittin' Pretty Pet Salon and Fatty's Crab House and a bank and a car dealership. They were Marines and soldiers, wives and widows of veterans who'd fished out their service flags and American flags. They were babies in strollers and high school athletes and members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in crisp uniforms.
This is where they'd seen him — those who'd seen him at all — the Mystery Marine in service-issued silkies running with a POW flag on the Fourth of July.
His name was Mario Kletzke.
He died Sept. 24 at his home in Stafford, of suicide. He was 23.
His final route would be part of the one he'd run, only this time there was a police escort and a hearse and all those people standing under a gray sky before lunchtime Thursday.
His Marine Corps record told this much of his story: Kletzke enlisted right out of high school in 2012. He'd been a rifleman and spent nearly eight months in Afghanistan.
He'd last served with the 2d Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 2d Marine Division, in Camp Lejeune, N.C. When he was discharged as a corporal at the end of June after fulfilling a four-year commitment, his awards included a combat action ribbon, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and a National Defense Service Medal.
But few of those gathered along Route 610 knew even that much. It was enough that he was a Marine, that he had served his country and suffered and now he was gone. That his family—his mother and father and brother and sister, a nephew and grandparents—were now left now to grieve and grapple with a loss that was unimaginably unexpected.
Elizabeth Davis had some idea of their pain. Her husband, 1st Lt. Matthew Davis, was killed when an accused drunken driver—a fellow Marine—slammed into his truck while stationed at Camp Pendleton in California in November 2014. When she'd come home to Stafford, crowds lined the streets in support.
It had brought her a little bit of peace, and that's what she hoped the Kletzke family would feel when they saw so many strangers doing the same for them. On Thursday morning, she plucked a Marine Corps flag from a stash she keeps in her garage and stood among the gathering crowds.
Most had heard from social media about the plan to line the highway the Mystery Marine once ran, and Davis was no different. She wanted his family to know this: "His sacrifice was not in vain. This is a sacrifice—the demons he was fighting when he came home."
Renee Avery had seen the Marine's photo on Facebook over the summer and felt a little bit like she knew him. He'd projected valor and strength, she said. In death he was no less heroic. He was also a reminder that you never really know what people are struggling with on the inside.
Peggi Richards felt she understood. The Stafford wife and mom had come out with 4-year-old daughter, Samantha Glenn, dressed in red, white and blue, and her husband, an 18-year Army veteran injured multiple times during deployments.
"We live with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] every day. We know the dark side," Richards said, and later, at Kletzke's funeral mass at St. William of York Catholic Church, the officiant would talk about how combat could change a person, how some unseen injuries could be as deep and painful as the loss of a limb.
Kletzke, he would say to a church so full many were left to stand, was a casualty of war no different than if he'd died on the battlefield.
But this was about light.
This, said Isaiah Schaffer, a Marine veteran from Fredericksburg, was about reminding a family they were not alone.
He hopes that some day, when the fog of their grief begins to clear, they will remember how the community came together, how they lined the streets for miles to honor the Marine whose name they finally knew.
©2016 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)
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