Marine reservist from Oxon Hill dies handling captured grenade in Kuwait WAR IN THE GULF

March 06, 1991|By James Bock

The cease-fire was in place and Kuwaitis danced in the streets, but the Persian Gulf war was not over for Lance Cpl. James M. Lang, a 20-year-old Marine reservist from Oxon Hill.

Corporal Lang was killed Friday afternoon when a captured grenade detonated as he was turning it in "somewhere in Kuwait," the Marine Corps said yesterday. He was the fifth Marylander to die in the war.

"We received a letter from him Sunday and found out on Monday. It was a real high and a real low for the whole family," said his sister, Violet Lang, 23, of Falls Church, Va. "He was very proud to be a Marine."

Corporal Lang was one of about 100 Marine reservists assigned to Company B of the 4th Light Armored Infantry Battalion based at Fort Detrick in Frederick. The company left for Camp Lejeune, N.C., in early December and flew to Saudi Arabia the day after Christmas.

Corporal Lang told a reporter for the Fort Detrick Standard, the post newspaper: "I want to be a part of this. . . . This is not an oil war. It is to stop a madman."

"A lot of people are saying that they would never call us up, but I knew sooner or later that they would. It is for a good cause. . . . I am fighting for my country," he said, according to notes of the December interview, which was not published.

The son of a career Navy man, Corporal Lang grew up in Prince George's County, attended Roman Catholic schools in Alexandria, Va., and moved to Guam with his parents after his father retired in the late 1980s. His mother is a native of the Pacific island.

"He was a good kid, really considerate and kind," his sister said.

Corporal Lang graduated in 1989 from Harvest Christian Academy in Toto, Guam, where he was remembered as a "strikingly good-looking young man" who played intramural football, lifted weights and showed a military bent.

"He was a likable young man, very sociable," said Roger Wood, school principal. "By his own admission, academics were not his strong point. He . . . liked to have fun, yet in a respectful way."

Corporal Lang moved back to Maryland and joined Company B in September 1989. He lived with his uncle and aunt in the Birchwood City section of Oxon Hill, an older community of modest single-family homes just inside the Capital Beltway, and for a time rented an apartment in Alexandria, where he worked as a security guard and in a video store.

He attended Prince George's Community College for the 1990 spring semester, taking courses in English and criminal justice. He wanted to be a police officer, his sister said.

Corporal Lang rode in "one of the command vehicles" when Company B left Fort Detrick for Camp Lejeune on Dec. 3, said Norman Covert, a post spokesman. He said the company was a "quick-strike reconnaissance unit" equipped with the Light Armored Vehicle 25, which can travel on land or water.

The news of Corporal Lang's death came as a shock to parents of other members of Company B.

"It's such a shame," said Glena Wirtanen of Phoenix, Md., whose 26-year-old son, Robert Wirtanen Jr., is with Company B. "I think a lot of people think reservists are in the back moving things around, but these boys weren't. They were a combat unit."

Her husband, Robert Wirtanen,said, "When the war was supposed to be over, people would ask me, 'Aren't you happy?' and I'd say, 'No, I'm not happy because they're still up in Kuwait. I'm not going to feel easy until they're back in Saudi Arabia."

The Wirtanens will host a salute to Company B at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at their home, 3810 Blenheim Road in Phoenix. Family and friends will send the troops a "postcard from home" featuring a 30-foot-by-42-foot U.S. flag from Fort McHenry.

In addition to his sister, Corporal Lang is survived by his parents, James R. and Evelyn Reyes Lang of Chalan Pago, Guam.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete yesterday.

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