Marine killed by friendly fire was turning his life around
By Brian Cabell
BOILING SPRINGS, South Carolina (CNN) -- He was a young man who was struggling to better himself, but was cut down by an errant bomb in Iraq at the age of 20.
Just a few years ago, Pvt. Nolen Ryan Hutchings graduated from Boiling Springs High School outside of Spartanburg, South Carolina. The school celebrated his life recently, turning a classroom into a memorial for a Marine who gave his life for his country.
He was an average student, his teachers say, but one with a big smile and a big heart.
"He just never missed the opportunity to say a kind word or to let people know that he was thinking of them," said Kerise Broome, his former English teacher.
Those who knew him say Hutchings, like so many teenagers, had his share of problems. Court records show he was arrested for trespassing and petty larceny while still in high school. But more importantly, his family said, toward the end of his life, Hutchings was trying to find his way.
"Typical problems, typical kid," his adopted father Larry Hutchings said. "But when he did get into trouble, he settled his own mistakes."
Students at Boiling Springs High School sign a memorial to fallen soldier Pvt. Nolen Ryan Hutchings.
During his sophomore year in high school, he reached out to Northbrook Baptist Church in Boiling Springs for help. "He did it on his own," his mother Carolyn Hutchings said. "No one pushed him into that. And every time them doors were open, he was there."
He joined a youth group with the church and went on a few missions to help spread the faith. But even there, church members confirm, he struggled.
"He tried to do right," member Craig Seay says. "He's like you and me and everybody else, he messes up sometimes. But he tried to do the best he could."
Hutchings' longtime ambition had been to join the Marines, and upon graduation, he did just that. He was determined, it seemed, to straighten himself out, and make his family and his hometown proud.
Teachers at Boiling Springs High say he returned repeatedly, in uniform, to the campus to renew acquaintances and sing the praises of the Marine Corps. He seemed leaner, happier, and prouder than ever, the teachers say.
Then came the war, and he was sent to Iraq. In the southern city of Nasiriya on March 23, his armored vehicle unit came under attack by Iraqis. A coalition A-10 jet provided air cover for the Marines but apparently mistakenly attacked Hutchings' unit.
For three weeks, as his family agonized, he was listed as missing in action. On April 12, the official word reached his family of his death.
Hutchings' body was returned to South Carolina. During the funeral, Col. William Callahan, chief of staff of the young man's unit, handed Hutchings' mother a Purple Heart awarded to her son posthumously.
"Let there be no doubt that Ryan is the genuine American hero," Callahan told The Greenville News.
Note: In every war there are acts of extraordinary courage where an individual, military or civilian, goes beyond what is expected to avert conflict, save lives or otherwise achieve an extraordinary mission. This special section highlights the acts of a few individuals who -- through feats of courage, nobility of purpose or life-risking situations -- have become "Heroes of War."