Marine veteran Ethan Hunter Hertweck often quoted an axiom, his mother Leslie recalled: “All that’s necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Ethan decided that he needed to help the Ukrainian people, Leslie Hertweck told Task & Purpose.
Ethan Hertweck went to Ukraine to serve as a medic and ultimately to fight against the Russians, his mother told Task & Purpose. He was killed during what was supposed to be his last mission, just 11 days before he was scheduled to return home.
“He had thought of coming home before this last mission, but we know he didn’t want to leave his two ‘brothers’ that transferred with him to the new unit,” Leslie Hertweck said on Thursday. “He would have been home, here in Springfield, Missouri. today!”
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At least 46 Americans have died in Ukraine since February 2022, including more than 30 U.S. military veterans. Ethan Hertweck is one of 11 Marine veterans killed in Ukraine, according to a list compiled by Task & Purpose.
Ethan Hertweck served in the Marine Corps from November 2019 to June 2020, according to his service record, which was provided to Task & Purpose. He left the Corps as a private first class. His last duty assignment was at the School of Infantry at Camp Pendleton, California.
The reason he only spent seven months in the Marine Corps is that he received an honorable discharge for a medical condition, according to his DD-214, which was provided to Task & Purpose.
“He had a rare blood disorder called G6PD Deficiency that we never knew about because it wasn’t detected at birth,” Leslie Hertweck said. “He never had symptoms until towards the middle and end of boot camp. He didn’t know what it was and he thought he would be fine but through SOI [School of Infantry] is when he started to feel the effects of it. So that was the reason why they honorably discharged him.”
Many American veterans traveled to Ukraine at the start of the conflict because they felt an overwhelming need to help those caught up in the fighting. Some veterans felt that the Ukraine war was a conflict of good against evil.
Ethan Hertweck found that after his first trip to Ukraine, he couldn’t stay away from the country, his mother said.
Leslie Hertweck said that her son initially went to Ukraine shortly after the Russian invasion and then returned home after spending several weeks helping women and children on the country’s border with Poland.
He spent the next year talking about going back to make a difference, so he returned to Ukraine, where he initially spent a few months getting his combat medical license. Then he trained Ukrainians in lifesaving and combat skills.
But Ethan Hertweck felt guilty for not being on the battlefield with the Ukrainians whom he was training, and eventually he signed a contract with the Ukrainian military, joining the 131st Special Reconnaissance Battalion as a medic for team Vidmak.
After going on a few missions, one of which involved crossing the Dnipro River, Ethan Hertweck joined another unit along with one of his comrades. On Dec. 8, he and a member of his former unit were protecting two bunkers when the Russians began to overrun their position.
“They both single-handedly left their post taking out about 12 enemy soldiers and halting their advance,” Leslie Hertweck said. “They saved two bunkers full of their unit. Ethan made it to the bunker but had to go back for his mate, and that is when he was hit in his left upper chest above his plate, but he still tried to render aid before he passed.”
Never during his time in Ukraine did Ethan Hertweck voice any regrets for deciding to help Ukrainians, his mother said.
While his family is mourning his loss, they are also deeply proud of his sacrifice, she said, adding: “He gave his life for a country and people he had fallen in love with!”
UPDATE: 12/22/2023; this story was updated to make clear that Ethan Hunter Hertweck was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps for a medical condition.
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