'Fahrenheit' Marine Laid To Rest

Marines carry the casket of Marine Staff Sgt. Raymond Plouhar as his wife, Leigha, follows during his funeral Friday, July 7, 2006, at Lake Orion High School in Lake Orion, Mich. AP/Detroit Free Press, Hugh Grannum

He was a stern-faced sniper — and a soft-hearted Marine who handed out candy to kids in Iraq. He was a warrior who wrote poetry about life and death.

He was featured in Michael Moore's antiwar documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," portrayed as an overzealous Marine recruiter who targeted poor kids.

But Staff Sgt. Raymond Plouhar was far more complicated than that.

And it was that complicated man who died in Iraq in late June, as he served with some of the same men he had recruited years ago. It was that complex man who was buried Friday, by a family that honored his service but would never forget his humanity.

"He had a huge heart," says his widow, Leigha.

Plouhar was a Marine for 10 of his 30 years, but he had dreamed of joining the military ever since he was a little boy who liked to watch "M-A-S-H" on television and dress in fatigues and a camouflage shirt.

He entered the Corps straight out of high school, was trained as a sniper and traveled the world — Bosnia, Sudan and Israel. He had a ramrod posture and a fierce pride in his appearance: He once ironed his uniform and polished its brass buttons for two hours before allowing his mom to photograph him.

"He told me lots of times that he learned what could be accomplished... if you put your heart and soul in it — and he put his heart and soul in the Marine Corps," says his father, also named Raymond. "He was gung-ho from the time he signed his name until the day he died."

His signature was a memorable one.

His birth certificate read Raymond James Byron Anthony Charles Plouhar — he was named after all his grandfathers. He followed a long family tradition of military service that included a grandfather who earned a Purple Heart in World War II and an older sister, Toni, who was in the Army.

Plouhar carried a Bible from his grandfather, Raymond, to Iraq. He kept it in his left shirt pocket next to his heart. Tucked inside was a photo of his wife and their two sons, Raymond, 9, and Michael, 5.

As devoted as he was to the Marines, Plouhar had a full life outside the military. He liked to hunt and camp, take canoe trips and fish with his boys.

He was known as a charmer, a good talker, a champion of the underdog (always defending and befriending kids picked on in school) and though he was trained to fight and kill, he preferred the role of peacemaker.

"He didn't like turmoil," recalls his mother, Cynthia. "He wanted everybody to be happy, to get along... He'd say 'Life's too short to sweat the small stuff.'"

As family members gathered last week in their lakefront home 30 miles north of Detroit, they lined the walls and windows with photo collages that tell Raymond Plouhar's life in chapters.

There's the grinning kid with the protruding ears (a coach once joked he looked like a Volkswagen with the doors open) proudly holding up the bass he caught.

There's the sturdy athlete grappling with an opponent around a wrestling circle and posing in the green-and-white football uniform of the Lake Orion Dragons.

There's the young man in love, sitting with high school sweetheart, Leigha, on his dad's Harley on their way to the prom, then years later, together again, he in Marine blue, she in white, on their wedding day.

Then there's the tough-minded Marine in helmet and combat gear — doling out candy from a plastic bag two months ago to schoolchildren in Iraq.

"He admired the Iraqi people," his father says. "He said, 'Dad, even though I can't understand a word they're saying, if we were back home... we'd be buddies.'"
  • James Klatell

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