ERAU Prescott Alumni ('94) Dies in Iraq Helicopter Crash


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ERAU Prescott Alumni (\'94) Dies in Iraq Helicopter Crash

Fallen Marine had local ties

Friday, April 04, 2003

By Eric Leins/Gilroy Bureau

Capt. Aaron J. Contreras, a former Gilroy resident, and two other U.S. servicemen died when their UH-1 Huey crashed Sunday at a forward supply and refueling point in southern Iraq.
Former Gilroy resident and Saint Mary’s Catholic School student Capt. Aaron J. Contreras was killed Sunday when his Marine helicopter crashed in Iraq.

Contreras, 31, and two other U.S. servicemen died when their UH-1N Huey crashed Sunday at a supply and refueling point. No enemy fire was involved, according to the Department of Defense.

“We’ll remember him as a loving, religious patriotic man. His birthday was the Fourth of July,” said Contreras’ older brother, David. “We called him ‘Pure Love’ just because of his overall demeanor. He was always happy and always smiling.”

David Contreras said his brother’s nickname and his role as a Marine were not contradictory.

“He wanted to fly. He wanted to serve his country,” David Contreras said.

Contreras was assigned to the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 169, Marine Aircraft Group 39, at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He piloted the ill-fated helicopter, his brother said.

According to Saint Mary’s, Contreras attended first grade at the school before moving in 1979 with his family to Sherwood, Ore., a suburb of Portland. David Contreras said the family moved when his mother, Rosary, was transferred by her employer, Intel.

Aaron Contreras, one of five brothers, was born in San Jose to Edward and Rosary Contreras. The family lived in Gilroy for about three years, moving to Gilroy to enjoy life “out of the city,” David Contreras said.

Aaron played football, basketball and some track and baseball at Sherwood High School, his brother said. He graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., and joined the Marines in 1997, said Edward Contreras, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Marines.

Contreras married his wife, Janelle, in 1991 and they had three children, a boy and two girls. They settled in Temecula, Calif., to be close to Camp Pendleton.

“Aaron was very religious, and believed in his church,” said the father, who was notified of his son's death on Monday.

David Contreras said Janelle and the children were doing “as well as could be expected.”

“Janelle is holding up. She’s a strong woman,” he said. “The easiest way I can explain how we’re feeling is to say, ‘Put yourselves in our shoes.’ This was definitely a shock.”

Contreras regularly attended vigils at Sherwood’s St. Francis Church, his brother David said. A Mass said Monday at the church was attended by Aaron Contreras' parents, said Tom McCarthy, a priest at St. Francis.

The parish sent notes and letters of condolences to his wife and children in California. Camp Pendleton will hold a memorial today for Contreras and the other crewmen killed, David Contreras said.

The family has set up a memorial fund for the Contreras children. Donations can be sent to the Aaron J. Contreras Memorial Fund in care of the Navy Federal Credit Union, P.O. Box 3000, Marryfield, VA 22119. For more information, call (800) 656-7676.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.