‘10th year is no better than first,’ father of fallen Marine says

Living without Marine Lance Cpl. Michael J. Cifuentes isn’t any easier now than it was 10 years ago, when his family on Aug. 3, 2005, learned he had been killed in Iraq.

“The 10th year is no better than the first,” said Greg Cifuentes, the father of the 25-year-old who in part grew up in the Fairfield Fire Department, where his father still works today.

Cifuentes, a St. Xavier High School graduate, was one of 14 Marines killed Aug. 3, 2005, after their vehicles were struck with improvised explosive devices while conducting combat operations south of Hadithah, Iraq — about 165 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Also killed in the blast was 22-year-old West Chester Twp. resident Marine Lance Cpl. Timothy Bell.

It’s difficult for Greg Cifuentes to talk about life without his son, though he is thankful for those who continue to keep his memory alive through events like the annual Hero’s Ride, a motorcycle ride that benefits Impact A Hero, which provides support to military personnel who are severely injured or disabled.

Cifuentes, who was engaged to be married, was a 2002 Miami University graduate and was enrolled in the school’s integrated mathematics master’s degree program before his unit was activated in January 2005.

He was also a substitute teacher at Talawanda Middle School.

“He was always willing to go in there and do his best to meet the needs of the teacher,” said Sharon Lytle, a Miami University professor who retired as middle school principal at Talawanda.

And Cifuentes’ death “really shocked us and hit us hard,” not only because he was a “well-liked” and “well-respected” substitute teacher, but because he was a friend.

“I would have hired him in a minute if he had come home and wanted a job,” Lytle said. “He was just a wonderful young man.”

Fairfield Fire Chief Don Bennett said he watched Cifuentes grow up.

“Michael was always the gentlemen,” he said, adding that Cifuentes was “overly polite” whenever visiting the fire station with his dad or mom, Carolyn.

As a young man, Cifuentes also worked with Bennett’s daughter, Stephanie, and several of her friends at the Frisch’s restaurant in Fairfield.

Bennett said at the time he joked to Greg Cifuentes that he was “not responsible in any way for the future of his son under the influence of those five girls.”

“While the 10th anniversary allows us an opportunity to bring it back to the surface and talk about it, it’s an anniversary that is significant every year,” Bennett said.

The anniversary of Cifuentes’ death is also a reminder of a tragic loss in Bennett’s family.

During the 2008 Hero’s Ride, Bennett’s daughter, the one who once served up food at Frisch’s with Cifuentes, and son-in-law, Tom Bobinger, died when a tree along the ride route fell on them.

In addition to Cifuentes, Fairfield residents Marine Lance Cpl. Taylor Prazynksi and Army PFC Timothy Hines also died in the summer of 2005 while serving in Iraq.

John Prazynski, father of Taylor Prazynski, said he remembers reaching out to the Cifuentes family.

“I just tried to convey to them that they’re not alone, that when we experienced the same thing they were experiencing we felt so alone,” Prazynski said.

Cifuentes and the other fallen heroes from Fairfield will always be remembered as far as Mayor Steve Miller is concerned.

“We have not forgotten, and the sacrifices these young men made I don’t think ever will be forgotten,” he said. “They gave it all and I hope we never forget the sacrifices that they made for our freedoms in this country.”

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