Poplar Bluff native died in Marines base explosion

Friday, November 15, 2013
Vehicles file through the main gate of Camp Pendleton Marine Base on Wednesday at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Four Marines, including a Poplar Bluff native, were reported killed in an accident while clearing an unexploded ordnance. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- Staff Sgt. Eric W. Summers survived five deployments in combat zones, but he was one of four U.S. Marines killed Wednesday while clearing a range of unexploded ordnance at Camp Pendleton near San Diego.

"He had been thinking about getting out of the Marines," said his grieving mother, Melodie Summers of Poplar Bluff, Mo.

His father, Wayne, learned about the accident on the evening news, but no names were being released at the time.

"Wayne knew that was the job Eric was doing," Melodie Summers said.

They called Summers' wife, Andrea, at Camp Pendleton, but she had not been notified.

"She called at 6:30 p.m. and told us," Melodie said. "Then two Marines from Memphis came to our house at 7:30 or 8 to notify us."

The 1999 Poplar Bluff High School graduate attended Three Rivers College one year, then enlisted in the Marines in 2000.

Summers also is survived by his 2-year-old daughter, Alexia, and his brother, Darren, of Springfield, Mo.

"Eric was deployed overseas six times -- five in combat zones," Melodie Summers said.

During his 13-year career, Summers served in Kuwait in 2003, Iraq and three times in Afghanistan without being wounded.

"We are real proud of him," said Melodie, who had retired after teaching at Eugene Field Elementary School and the 5th and 6th Grade Center. She still helped with the in-school suspension program one day a week.

Wayne is employed at Ozark Ridge Golf Course.

"Eric loved to play golf," his mother said.

Billy Pyland was Eric's golf coach during all four years of high school and had played golf with Eric when he was in Poplar Bluff during the summer.

"He was one of my captains. He was a very good leader," Pyland said. "He had great integrity. He was a great person -- someone you could rely on."

Melodie said the funeral will be in Poplar Bluff at a time to be announced later.

The deaths occurred during a periodic sweep of explosive material to make ranges safe for future exercises, said a Marine official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

There was no live firing on the range at the time, the official said.

Base officials released no details on the 11 a.m. accident. Authorities were investigating the cause.

"We offer our heartfelt prayers and condolences to the families of the Marines lost today in this tragic accident," said Brig. Gen. John W. Bullard, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations West at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. "Our first priority is to provide the families with the support they need during this difficult time."

The deaths come about eight months after a mortar explosion killed seven Marines during a live-fire training exercise in Nevada.

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