CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Lance Corporal Mason Vanderwork loved going to the beach and cruising in his Mustang convertible. He and his wife, Taylor, married the day after her high school graduation, and hoped to start a family.
The 21-year-old loved being a Marine and had a tattoo emblazoned on his chest, she said, that read, ‘‘Sacrifice. Without fear there is no courage.’’
He was among the Marines killed in a desert training accident this week.
Just 19, Private First Class Josh Martino of Dubois, Pa., had already spent nearly half his life dreaming of becoming one of ‘‘the few, the proud.’’ He joined in July and hoped to marry his fiancee this year before being deployed to Afghanistan, his mother, Karen Perry, said.
‘‘Since he was probably 8 years old he wanted to be a Marine,’’ she said.
Lance Corporal Josh Taylor, 21, also seemed to have been born for the Corps. The Marietta, Ohio, native had talked about being a Marine since he was about 5, said his grandfather, Larry Stephens. Josh, too, was planning for a wedding, scheduled in May.
Both young men were among seven members of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force killed late Monday when a mortar shell exploded in its firing tube during an exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada. Eight men were injured.
Six remained hospitalized in Reno on Thursday, and their overall conditions were improving. Five were listed in fair condition, and one was in serious, compared with two who had been serious a day earlier.
The bodies of the seven victims arrived Wednesday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware after a procession and small ceremony on the ramp at the Reno airport, said Major April Conway, spokeswoman for the Nevada Army National Guard.
The seven Marines killed ranged in age from 19 to 26. Some had served overseas; others were training for their first deployment. They were in the final night of a training exercise spread out over several days in California and Nevada when the accident occurred.
While many had long dreamed of being Marines, some were planning for a life after the Corps.
Aaron Ripperda, 26, of Highland, Ill., joined after graduating from a St. Louis culinary school and finding the job market flat. His father tried to dissuade him.
‘‘He told us he always felt like he had a calling to join the Marines,’’ Kent Ripperda said.
Roger Muchnick, 23, who grew up in Westport, Conn., already had pulled one tour in Afghanistan and was thinking about returning to college after his enlistment was up, said his grandfather, Jerome Muchnick.
Muchnick played on the football and lacrosse teams at Staples High School and went on to play lacrosse at Eastern Connecticut State University, where he studied business.
‘‘He was a fabulous kid. Just fabulous,’’ his grandfather said. ‘‘He was at the top of his game when this happened. . . . You can’t imagine losing a very handsome, 23-year-old grandson who was vital and loving.’’