Remembering Baton Rouge’s fallen

Lt. Michael Scott Lamana pictured with his flight training class in Pensacola, Florida. All images courtesy of the families.

Commemorating brave locals who gave their lives to defend our country

As Memorial Day approaches, Americans think of the courageous men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in our nation’s armed forces. Though they may be gone from this world, they live on in the hearts of their parents, husbands and wives, and children. They live on in the monuments we construct in honor of them. And they live on in the stories we tell of them.

By honoring their lives, we continue to hold them close, ensuring the public will know more of them than just their names etched in cold stone.

These are the stories of four locals who sacrificed everything to keep us all free and safe, as shared with us by their families. Never forget.

—By Lynn McMorris

Lt. Michael Scott Lamana

Lamana and his dog, Neiko.
Lamana and his dog, Neiko.

It was Sept. 11, 2001, and Navy Lt. Michael Scott (Scotty) Lamana should have been enjoying a day off. But staffing was short at his duty station at the Pentagon that morning, and he didn’t hesitate to help. As a result, he was one of 189 who perished as the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon building. He was 31 years old.

A Baton Rouge native, it seems Lamana was born to serve. Graduating from Catholic High in 1988, he was fulfilling his calling by the time he reached LSU. While juggling a full-time class load and participating in Navy ROTC, he became a volunteer fireman at St. George Fire Department and worked as a reserve deputy for East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Department.

Upon graduation, he was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy and embarked upon a military career. He completed flight training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, married the love of his life, Lorna Duco, and continued skyward, steadily rising in rank and responsibility. His last assignment included monitoring the fleet from the Naval Operations Command Center and briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.

His parents, Mike and Wanda Lamana, want their son to be remembered for his warm, caring nature and great sense of humor. He was loyal to friends and cared deeply for the men who served under him, they say.

They tell the story of a newly married sailor who arrived stateside after a six-month deployment. Returning military go through hours of accounting for equipment and other mundane chores before they can be released. As ranking officer, Lamana released the man to return home to his new wife while he himself performed the grunt work of sorting, checking, cleaning and returning the equipment.

Mike Lamana says despite his son’s high rank and prestigious job duties, he remained a humble man.

Lamana was buried with full military honors in Section 64 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Lance Cpl. Ryan S. McCurdy

Lance Cpl. McCurdy in Iraq.
Lance Cpl. McCurdy in Iraq.

The nickname stuck. The rhyme was just too perfect and the description oh-so-accurate: Dirty McCurdy. Bestowed upon Ryan S. McCurdy as a child, it would one day be shortened to just plain “Dirt” by the marines he served with. “The kid could attract dirt like a magnet,” his mother, Jan McCurdy, says.  She describes him as good-natured but “all boy”—an active child, physically agile almost from birth and very difficult to keep clean.

Before he was 2 she found him on top of a bathroom counter, trying out his new toothbrushing skills using everyone else’s toothbrushes. To this day she has no idea how he managed to make the climb. Another time she discovered he had explored her makeup, applying it to himself as he had seen her do.

“You just had to watch him,” she says. “He could get into anything.”

As soon as he could hold a bat and throw a ball, sports became the focus of his life. Attending Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge, Ryan played catcher on the 2002 LHSAA Class 2A state championship baseball team and was named second-team all-district. He also played soccer and anchored the offensive line as center for the school’s football team. He loved the physical contact and competition of sports.

Ryan dreamed of a career as a football coach, but first he wanted to serve his country. He chose to follow his older brother Grant into the Marine Corps, enlisting upon graduation in 2004. He left for basic training that October. His dress blues were probably the first uniform he ever kept spotlessly clean.

Assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Ryan was deployed to Iraq in October 2005. It didn’t take long for his bravery to be tested. On Dec. 26, 2005, he was confronted with a suicide bomber walking into a gathering of Iraqi policemen. He shot the insurgent before he could detonate.

On Jan. 5, 2006, McCurdy was guarding a building in Fallujah where Americans and Iraqis were to meet. A group of insurgents opened fire and Ryan’s friend, Cpl. Clifton Trotter, collapsed to the ground with a gunshot wound through his neck. McCurdy left his position of cover, racing to Trotter’s side. Grabbing his legs, he managed to drag him to safety, saving his life. Moments later, McCurdy was killed by two gunshot wounds to his chest. He was 20 years old.

McCurdy’s funeral was held at Christian Life Academy, just steps away from the fields on which he had played. He was buried at Resthaven Garden of Memories and Mausoleum.

Sgt. Jeffrey Lynn Kirk

Sgt. Kirk in Iraq.
Sgt. Kirk in Iraq.

Marine Corps Sgt. Jeffrey Lynn Kirk was awarded the Silver Star for valor shown during intense combat on Nov. 10, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq. He survived that day but would not live to accept the medal. Instead, his widow, Carly, and his family would accept the commendation on his behalf along with a tightly folded flag and the thanks of a grateful nation.

The action took place during the second Battle of Fallujah, Operation Phantom Fury—one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq war. It was gritty urban warfare, clearing buildings room by room, block by block.

Kilo 3/5, the Dark Horse Battalion, was in the thick of it and Baton Rouge native Kirk was leading his 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon. Coming under intense fire from a heavily fortified machine gun positioned high within a multi-story building, he and his men attacked.

Their first assault was unsuccessful as they were met with a barrage of heavy machine gun fire. They fell back, regrouped and charged again. Once more they were forced back, heaving grenades as they retreated. Wounded but refusing to leave the fight, Kirk led a third assault, this time wiping out the insurgents and clearing the building, saving the lives of many Marines by doing so.

Kirk’s gunshot wound was non-life-threatening, and he lobbied daily for an early release from medical treatment. He passed the time making friends with a young Iraqi boy, also hospitalized for wounds to both hands. Kirk’s mother says he enjoyed opening care packages from home and feeding the candy to the young Iraqi. After just two weeks in medical care, he was discharged and rejoined the fight.

On Dec. 12, with the battle continuing to rage, a fellow Marine was shot after entering a building next to the one Kirk was clearing. Hearing the gun battle erupt, Kirk exited and ran toward the firefight. He was killed by small-arms fire as he searched down an alley for an alternative entry point to gain access to the fallen Marine. Kirk was 24 years old.

His parents, Lisa and Peter, did not foresee a military career for their son. He was a talented artist and a bit of a nonconformist who seemed happiest sketching with pencil and pad. He was accepted into the gifted program at McKinley High School and showed natural leadership skills. Kirk loved poetry and teased his mother by insisting on holding her hand at the shopping mall. He set his sights on the Marines at age 16 and talked three of his friends into joining with him.

Kirk’s artwork now graces the bodies of those with whom he served—several of them got tattoos of his work as a permanent tribute.

Lisa says her son wanted to lead a life of significance. As a Marine, he did so with honor, distinction and bravery. Kirk is buried in the Port Hudson National Cemetery.

1st Lt. Christopher W. Barnett

1st Lt. Barnett in Iraq.
1st Lt. Barnett in Iraq.

High military rank does not necessarily equate to combat leadership. True leaders are officers whose bravery, judgment under pressure and devotion to those whose lives are in their hands are unshakeable.

Those leaders become beloved mentors. They change the lives of the men and women who follow them into combat.

First Lt. Christopher W. Barnett was one of those rare leaders.

Barnett’s career began as an enlisted man in 1990, serving stints in Germany, Fort Carson, Colorado, and Korea before returning in 1997 to attend LSU. He moved directly from active duty to guard status as a member of the 108th Calvary, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team—the “Louisiana Brigade.”

Following his graduation in 2001, he accepted a position designing websites for the Department of Transportation and Development before leaving in 2002 for a position at Unisys. In 2003, he received a commission as second lieutenant, and in October 2004 the 256th Brigade deployed to Iraq.

Barnett was tasked with leading security missions in and around Baghdad. The work was dirty and dangerous, but he frequently assured his parents, Robert and Judy, of his relative safety. He spoke more candidly with his brother, Jim Barnett, a paramedic with the local Emergency Medical Services who could better understand the reality of the situation.

On Dec. 23, 2004, Barnett’s family’s holiday preparations were interrupted by devastating news. Chris had been killed by an IED explosion while leading a mission near Baghdad. He was 32 years old and had been in Iraq for less than three months.

The 256th has a long and noble history. By the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, it had suffered 32 casualties. But Barnett was its first and the blow rippled through every soldier.

Donnie Robinson, now a lieutenant with Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Department, was one of his closest friends. “I admired Chris for the way his men looked up to him. I modeled my leadership style after his, and it’s made me a success,” Robinson says.

Barnett’s mother described him as a loving son and a complete jokester. Friends and fellow soldiers alike say he was the funniest guy they ever met. His silliness was an endless source of entertainment for his niece and nephews.

Speaking of his brother’s sense of duty, Jim Barnett says, “He loved what he did. Had he known what was going to happen, he would have gone anyway.”

Posthumously promoted to first lieutenant, Barnett is survived by his wife, Amanda. He is buried in Greenoaks Cemetery.