Family, awaiting Marine, finds he died in accident

March 13, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

DETROIT -- Joy. Then grief.

When the Persian Gulf fighting officially ended, Thomas Tormanen's family rejoiced and began planning a welcome home party for their warrior son.

On Sunday, 11 days after the war was declared over, the gulf was still deadly. Marine Lance Corporal Tormanen died that day, somewhere in Kuwait when a bunker he was sleeping in collapsed. A Pentagon spokesman called it a "non-battle death."

"We worried and worried through all the bombing and in the ground war. Then it was over and we relaxed. We figured Tom would be home in a couple of weeks," said Corporal Tormanen's father-in-law, John Heinonen, 51, of Milford, Mich.

As brothers, sisters and cousins comforted one another at the Heinonen home yesterday, there were few answers to the questions of how and why.

The two Marines and the nun who brought the news Monday to Corporal Tormanen's wife, who was staying with her parents in Milford, had sketchy details. It had happened about 9:30 in the morning. He had been asleep.

"The Marines said he suffocated when the bunker collapsed in on him," Mr. Heinonen said.

The 22-year-old corporal had shipped out to Okinawa in the South Pacific on July 13.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait, his unit was among the first to go to Saudi Arabia in August. Exactly 30 days later, Susan Tormanen gave birth to their first child, Derek.

Yesterday, family members in the rambling Heinonen home hugged and played with the lively 5 1/2 -month-old son Corporal Tormanen never held.

"He loves his dad. He gets excited when he sees his picture," said Corporal Tormanen's father, Robert Tormanen.

One day in the future Derek may come to know his father better through his letters.

In one dated Feb. 19, Corporal Tormanen wrote of his faith in God; of smiling in a wet, bitterly cold hole; and of the coming battle: "We are now in our final pre-attack position, just a few miles south of the Kuwait border. We can see the location we will go screaming through in just a very short while.

"The majority of us are calm about what is to come. It's no surprise, as we've been training and watching for this for so long. Our jitters have ceased for the moment, but when the command to go north comes, our 'war only' stomach acid will be creeping up our throats!

"We'll be going home, though, with a little detour through Kuwait and Iraq first! May God be with all of us as we face together what is to come."

Corporal Tormanen had commanded a mortar unit in a company that was expected to lead the Marine thrust into Kuwait City, family members said.

Corporal Tormanen had nine brothers and sisters. His wife, Susan, has 12.

"There's probably over a hundred cousins on both sides of the family. . . . He said he was breaking all records for getting mail," his father said.

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