CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Under a cold and driving rain that added to the sadness of the occasion, 15 ''grunt'' Marines killed in the crash of a controversial aircraft were remembered Monday as among the ''bravest and brightest'' of young Americans.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones told several hundred family members of the Marines, ''You can take solace in the fact that your Marines and your loved ones did not die in vain. We will learn from this tragedy.''
After the memorial service, Jones told reporters that the Marine Corps remains steadfast in its support of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-roter aircraft and has found nothing to suggest that the crash outside Tucson, Ariz., was the result of a design flaw.
''The fact that this is a new aircraft does not make it a test aircraft,'' Jones said. ''... It was a production aircraft, one we felt very comfortable flying in.''
Still, Jones said he has ordered that other Ospreys remain on an ''operational pause'' until investigators determine whether the April 8 crash, which killed 15 combat troops and four crew members, was the result of pilot error or a mechanical defect in the individual aircraft.
Jones said that when he orders the Ospreys back to flight status, he will be aboard the first flight to show his faith in the aircraft, which is designed to lift off like a helicopter but fly like a fixed-wing aircraft.
Examining the crash will help the mechanics and pilots assigned to the Osprey, Jones said. The aircraft's flight data recorder was recovered and is being analyzed at the Pentagon.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who attended the memorial service, said congressional support remains strong for the Osprey project.
Hunter, chairman of the military procurement subcommittee of the House Armed Services, said that the upcoming budget will contain money to continue the Osprey project.
Maj. Todd Eckloff, called on Marines in attendance to redouble their devotion to the Marine Corps out of respect for those who died in the crash.
''Anything less than our best would dishonor the memory of our fallen brothers,'' said Eckloff, his voice cracking.
Of the 15 Marines, 14 were stationed at Camp Pendleton, one at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego.
The crash occurred as the Marines were participating in desert training before their next deployment to the Persian Gulf.
Four Ospreys were taking part in an exercise to train troops in what has become a Marine Corps specialty in the post-Cold War era: Evacuating civilians from a hostile environment.
Although the cause of the crash has not been pinpointed, Marine officials have discounted eyewitness accounts that the aircraft was on fire before it crashed. Officials said the explosion and fire were caused when the Osprey crashed nose-down.
''We see no design flaws,'' said Lt. Gen. Fred McCorkle, deputy commandant for aviation.
After the service, family members huddled near field packs and weapons arranged to symbolize the 15 dead.
''He was a strong, moral person and he loved the Marine Corps,'' said a tearful Jason Neely, whose cousin, Cpl. Adam C. Neely, was aboard the Osprey.
A memorial service was held Friday at Quantico, Va., for the Osprey's four crew members.
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