Marine Roger Muchnick killed in Nevada has Lenox ties


Editor's update: The late Lt. Cmdr. William Coakley was a pilot in the Navy, not the Air Force, when he was shot down in 1966 in North Vietnam. This information was incorrect when this story was first published.

LENOX -- Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23, the grandson of Bob and Mary Ann Coakley of Lenox, was one of eight Marines accidentally killed in a mortar explosion Monday during training exercises in Nevada.

Muchnick will be honored Friday at St. Ann's in Lenox at an 11 a.m. funeral. He will be buried at St. Ann's Cemetery next to his great uncle, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William F. Coakley, a pilot who was shot down over North Vietnam on Sept. 13, 1966.

The Coakleys, Muchnick's maternal grandparents, live on the Coakley Farm in Lenox.

Much like in 1966 when the Coakleys got a visit from the Navy following the loss of Lt. Cmdr. Coakley, Muchnick's mother, Kate Coakley, was paid a visit at her Connecticut home by Marines in full uniform on Tuesday at 11 a.m. when they informed her of the loss of her son.

Bob Coakley noted that his family is a strong, tight-knit clan, but this loss is very hard to take.

"Nobody in our family is doing well. It's a terrible thing," he said. "But we are proud of him. So proud."

Muchnick was one of eight members of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force killed at about 9:55 p.m. Monday when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Seven others were injured.

According to Muchnick's grandparents, the accident that took their grandson occurred during his final week of winter survival tactical training in the mountains of Northern California and advanced artillery training in the Nevada desert. He was anticipating another deployment to Afghanistan in the fall.

His first deployment to Afghanistan for seven months was part of Operation Enduring Freedom. His unit was later deployed to Kuwait.

He was looking forward to finishing college following his discharge, which was slated for next year.

Muchnick was a 2008 graduate of Staples High School in Westport, Conn., where he was known for his contributions to the lacrosse and football teams. He spent a year at Eastern Connecticut State University and another year working at a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo., before enlisting in the Marines.

Although he lived in Connecticut, Muchnick spent a lot of time at Coakley Farm in Lenox.

"He was here all the time -- he loved the horses and he loved fishing," said Muchnick's grandfather, Bob Coakley. "We were very, very close."

When Muchnick was in Afghanistan, the Coakleys "prayed every day that he would come home safe," Bob Coakley said. "And he did. That was the last time we were physically with him."

The Coakley clan has had its share of loss. A few weeks before one of his three brothers was shot down over Vietnam in 1966, Bob Coakley's little brother, Joseph Coakley, was killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver in Lenox.

Bob Coakley retired in 1999 after 31 years as an educator in Pittsfield schools. He served as co-founder and chairman of the Lenox Tub Parade and was the baseball coach at Williams College.

The eight Marines killed ranged in age from 19 to 26. Some had served overseas while others were training for their first deployment.

The explosion Monday resulted in a suspension of the use of 60 mm mortars by the Marine Corps, with an exemption for troops in Afghanistan, military officials said. The suspension will be in effect until the accident investigation is complete, which could take some time.

"This is going to be a long investigation," Mary Ann Coakley said.

According to Mary Ann Coakley, the survival training session in the mountainous terrain of California was extremely difficult. A number of men in the unit were hospitalized for digestive and exposure issues.

"They were dropping like flies," she said.

When they recovered and regrouped in Nevada, Muchnick was glad to have his unit back together again.

Marine officials told the family seven of the soldiers were killed instantly. The eighth died later of his injuries.

"They said he never suffered a second," Mary Ann Coakley said.

Muchnick was focused on finishing up his hitch with the Marines and building a life, his family said.

"Four days before he was killed," Bob Coakley said, "we had a long talk with him. He was thrilled to be getting back with his unit, and he was really looking forward to going back to college."

"We were fortunate to have a wonderful grandson for 23 years, 4 months and one day," Mary Ann Coakley added. "He was a terrific kid."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

To reach Scott Stafford:,
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