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WV Scholarship set up to honor marine recruit who died at Parris Island

Published: Feb. 17, 2005 at 11:19 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2007 at 1:54 AM EST
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(Charleston, West Virginia-AP) Feb. 22, 2005 - A scholarship fund has been set up to honor the memory of a West Virginia Marine recruit who drowned earlier this month during water-survival maneuvers at Parris Island.

Nineteen-year-old Jason Robert Tharp of Sutton, West Virginia, died February 8th.

WIS News 10 caught on videotape an interaction between Tharp and a drill instructor on February 7th. The video shows a drill instructor yanking Tharp by the shirt and giving him a forearm one day before the recruit died.

The drill instructor and four other Marines shown in the video to have witnessed the incident have been suspended until an investigation is complete.

West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller has called for an investigation into the incident.

Sutton was a 2004 graduate of Braxton County, West Virginia, High School. He had said his goal in joining the Marines was to earn money to go to college to study art. He started boot camp after Christmas, leaving behind his Wendy's job, a brother and two sisters.

Jason Robert Tharp Memorial Scholarship Established

A scholarship fund has been established to honor the memory of Jason Robert Tharp, the 19-year-old Marine and 2004 graduate of Braxton County High School, who died Feb. 8 during water survival maneuvers at boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina.

“We wanted to keep Jason’s memory alive and to provide funding for students like Jason who want to go on to college,” a spokesperson for the scholarship fund said.

While a student at BCHS, Jason was active in FFA and enjoyed art. His goal in joining the Marines was to earn money to go to college to study art.

“Jason would be happy to know that this scholarship might prevent others like himself from having to jeopardize their safety to earn money for college,” Jason’s mother, Linda Tharp, said.

Contributions to the fund should be sent to:
Jason Tharp Memorial Scholarship Fund
Braxton County Board of Education
411 North Hill Road
Sutton, West Virginia  26601
ATTN: Treasurer

If you wish to send your condolences, and not donate to the Scholarship Fund, you can use the same address but make it to the attention of Brenda Gibson. She will be sure to get all such notes to the Tharps.

On Monday morning Tharp's parents appeared on NBC's "Today Show" with anchor Katie Couric. Johnny Tharp told Couric, "I just can't believe it happened. It shouldn't have happened. ... Everyday's like a nightmare, but you can't wake up." Linda Tharp said she agreed, "I just can't understand it."

They say they plan to sue the military for wrongful death and hope for a court martial for whoever is found responsible. Johnny Tharp says, "I hope we get justice for Jason and get some kind of legislation passed where this won't happen again."

"After he got there he found out he wasn't cut out for the Marine life. We knew that before he went in," Jason Tharp's father says. A different drill instructor told WIS News 10 that Jason was being belligerent and refusing to train. He also told us Jason wanted out. Jason's parents say that's true.

Linda Tharp read Couric the last letter Jason wrote his family before his death. It was dated February 2nd, "Tomorrow I have to go to the BAS for a follow-up appointment. If I don't approve overnight, then they could put me on bed rest for another day. Also tomorrow is the first day for the swim qualification. We are officially on Phase Two. My senior drill instructor told me it's pretty much downhill from here, but I think it's only going to get harder. I told him I couldn't cut it, and that's what he told me. I still don't think I belong here, and I think I should go home and try to get a grant. Do you agree? So, if you can get me out I could be forever grateful. Right now I don't care about the money. My health is in jeopardy, because we don't have enough time to eat, and I'm getting sicker and sicker, and there's no stopping it, because everyone in my platoon is coming down with something. A couple people have pneumonia, and they have been coughing up blood, and I fear soon it will be me. So, if you can find it in yourself to help me out of here, I would be grateful. Thanks. Love, Jason. I'm serious this time, and I will use all of my power to try to get out, too. And, another thanks if you can help me."

Parris Island officials are working on investigations into Marine recruit Jason Tharp's death and also into the conduct of the drill instructors.

Marine Corps officials in Washington say the drill instructor's actions toward Jason appear to be in direct violation of Marine regulations, and they are investigating the conduct of the drill instructor. The drill instructor is currently suspended along with two additional platoon drill instructors and two swim instructors while the investigations take place.

The Marines have specific rules about when a drill instructor can touch a recruit. Colonel John Valentin, second in command at Parris Island, echoes the same rules, "Under no circumstances, at no time, is it acceptable for any of our recruit trainers, anybody involved in the recruit training process, to physically abuse any recruit."

As for the circumstances of Jason's death: officials say Jason entered the pool voluntarily the day he died and that he was swimming the 25 meter requirement. They say Marines on hand took immediate action to rescue and resuscitate Jason.

Johnny Tharp says, "I believe he was sick and they forced him in the pool. They said he was coherent. But, on the tape he looked like he was incoherent when they were pushing him around. He shouldn't even have been in there."

Johnny Tharp says they were especially upset about the drill instructor grabbing and having contact with their son, "I don't know how they could treat my son the way we saw him. He never hurt nobody. He'd do anything anybody asked him. It's just not right."

Lieutenant General Bernard Trainer, who was second in command at Parris Island in the 70's says sometimes drill instructors have to deal with unwilling recruits, "Probably 80% of the recruits in the first few weeks of their training said, 'Oh my God, what am I doing here? I want to go home.' but they all get over that."

General Trainer says the process is hard but necessary, "It is tough. It frees them to go beyond what they think they can go. But, in all the whole process is a building process. It's not a destruction process."

Colonel Valentin says he would still send his children to Parris Island if they wanted to be Marines, "Our two most treasured possessions are our two children. I would tell you without a doubt, Angie, I would have absolutely no reservations if one or either one of our children decided to become a marine. This is where I would have them do their recruit training at Parris Island. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a safe place to train."

The Tharps won't know what happened until the Marines investigation is complete and that is expected to take weeks, "I swear to God. I don't want this to happen to another family. It's the hardest thing we ever had to do to bury our son."

Vikki Davis read a letter from her son James, who was a recruit who slept two bunks down from Jason, "I was so shocked when they'd told us he'd died. Most of the platoon wasn't at the pool. We'd already passed the swim qualification>

The letter is postmarked February 9th, the day after Jason died.

A mother's intuition tells her her son is feeling the loss, "I did think it had to be traumatic for those young guys, losing someone you are that close to, that bonded with has to be terrible for them."

Vikki says she thinks about her son almost every waking moment, but hardly ever worries he won't make it. His letters show a recruit pushed to his limits physically and mentally, but still in good spirits. Like when he wrote about getting his M-16, he's writes, "It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen...except for you mom. I'm doing fine."

She feels like her son is prepared for training, "I still have confidence that my son is Ok and being taken care of. I do have trust in the Marine Corps."

Even after seeing the videotape, she admits it haunts her and every time she watches it, her heart breaks a little bit more for the Tharps, "When I close my eyes I see that video and I wonder. I saw well, that could have been my son, but it's somebody elses son."

Jason's father tells WIS that his son was allowed to make one phone call, "He didn't sound good at all. He told us not to worry, he would finish." Mr. Tharp didn't believe him. He still wanted Jason home. A Parris Island spokesman also told us Jason indicated he, "Wanted to make it in the Marines."

WIS News 10 acknowledges we don't know the whole story of what happened to Jason during his five weeks of boot camp. We are presenting the videotape and the facts as we currently know them.

The Marines have been cooperative with us throughout the incident, but tell us they cannot talk specifically about Jason's case until the investigation is complete. Colonel Valentin is waiting for the investigations to finish, "We have three investigations that will determine any wrong doing on the part of any of our drill instructors."

Valentin says it will be at least a month before the investigation into Tharp's death is complete.

By Heather Brown & Angie Goff
Updated 8:57pm by BrettWitt