A soldier killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq became the first officer of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to die in action since World War II, guard officials announced Saturday.

Lt. Col. Michael McLaughlin, 44, of Mercer County, was speaking with Iraqi leaders and police candidates on Thursday when the blast occurred at a recruiting station in Ramadi. The explosion also killed a Marine and about 80 Iraqis, and injured dozens of others, including two soldiers from western Pennsylvania who have since returned to duty.

The same day, in a separate incident, Marine Cpl. Albert P. Gettings, 27, of New Castle, was killed when his squad was attacked by small arms fire near Fallujah, said his father, David.

Albert Gettings, who married a childhood friend in May in front of 800 friends and family members, is the first Lawrence County resident killed in action in Iraq.

“There are no words to describe him,” his wife, Stephanie, said. “He was sweet, he was loving and he was my best friend. He knew me better than I know myself. I cherish every minute that I got to spend with him.”

An avid baseball player who grew up in New Castle, Gettings first thought about joining the military after the Sept. 11 attacks. He enlisted in April 2002 and was assigned to a supply and accounting job, which made his parents happy, his father said.

“But my son absolutely hated it. He thought it was a job for civilians,” David Gettings said. “He felt the job of a Marine was to protect people.”

His son was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment and was shipped to Afghanistan, where he spent five months before returning to United States and getting married.

McLaughlin, a member of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, lived in Mercer County, about 15 miles north of New Castle.

“Colonel McLaughlin was a hands-on leader who died working to ensure Iraqis will one day be able to provide their own security,” Gov. Ed Rendell said in a statement. “Midge and I are deeply saddened, and we extend our deepest sympathies to the McLaughlin family.”

McLaughlin was a private contractor in Mercer. He was a 1980 graduate of West Forest High School in Tionesta, and held bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pittsburgh. McLaughlin joined the National Guard in April 1980.

“Mike died doing his job the only way he knew how — out front, with great enthusiasm and courage,” said Col. John L. Gronski, commander for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team. “He was a very close friend. My heart and my prayers go out to his family.”

Survivors include his wife and two daughters.

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