The construction of Mark Paine's character
Scott Marshall/Contra Costa Times, October 20, 2006
The construction of Mark Paine's character began to emerge on a day trip to the Nut Tree with his mother 25 years ago.
"When Mark and I decided to have lunch, I sat down and started asking him, 'What do you want to do with your life?'" Kairyn Paine recalled.
"I want to spend about six years in the Army like my dad," he replied.
The thought chilled her. "Mark, you could die, do you know that?" she implored.
Pausing Wednesday afternoon, his mother related his reply: "He looked up with eyes of such clarity, and he said, 'Mom, there are worse ways to die than dying in the defense of your country.'
"I was just stunned that he even knew what it was about," Kairyn recalled.
Mark Paine was 7.
Last Sunday night, Paine -- born at the Presidio, a Campolindo High School graduate and a well-known son of Lafayette who went on to become a West Point graduate, an Army captain and commander of a fighting unit he trained -- died in Taji, Iraq, when a bomb detonated near his vehicle.
He was 32, a descendant of generations of military men who fought in the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War II and Vietnam. It was his second tour of duty in Iraq. In his first tour, his unit was responsible for capturing Saddam Hussein, for which it received the Presidential Unit Citation, Mark's father, Roger Paine, said Wednesday.
"The tragedy of this, he was within three weeks of bringing his unit home," Roger Paine said.
Mark Paine's devotion to his men in Iraq was grounded in becoming a youth leader at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church and a Boy Scout in Troop 243 in Lafayette.
"Mark was in the troop several years," said John Coleman, the 17-year Scoutmaster of Troop 243. "He had unbounding enthusiasm for life, really. He always took on tasks he didn't need to take on."
Paine also remained focused on an Army career.
"He contacted a West Point adviser, just about the time he started high school," Roger Paine recalled. "He told him, 'I'm going to West Point, how do I do it?'"
He earned an appointment from then-U.S. Rep. Ron Dellums, now mayor-elect of Oakland. Paine finished in the top 5 percent of his class and began his career.
His first job after he received his commission was as reconnaissance platoon leader of an infantry platoon on the demilitarized zone in Korea. "He called me on his satellite phone," Roger Paine recalled. "It was evening, he was whispering: 'Guess where I am?'
"Within a quarter mile of the DMZ, watching three armored divisions of North Koreans charging the DMZ," Roger Paine recalled. "Mark was well known for leading in the front. He hated the idea of being in the back."
In Iraq, Paine commanded 200 members of B Company, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, based in Fort Hood, Texas. He trained the company.
"His specific job was, they were the teeth of the division, the teeth of the tiger, and Mark was the tiger," Roger Paine said.
He received four Bronze Stars, two with a V for valor, and the Army Commendation Medal with a V for valor. He suffered a concussion in a roadside bomb explosion just two days before he was killed. He was to be promoted to major upon his return.
Only now is the extent of Paine's reputation reaching home, as is the enormity of his loss.
"Of all the years I served, and Mark served, I really didn't see this one coming," said Roger Paine, a retired decorated Army captain who was wounded in Vietnam. "I just didn't see this one coming.
Paine's body will be returned to a military mortuary at Dover, Del., then will be borne to Arlington National Cemetery. His parents, brother Brandon and sister-in-law Jill, senior officers and West Point graduates will attend a funeral with full military honors.
His men will be there, too.
"That was his first priority, his men," Roger Paine sighed. Then he couldn't continue: "I got to go take a couple of deep breaths."