Nathan Ordway spent his life helping and protecting others.
In preschool, he stuck up for a girl whose toys had been taken from her. He was picked on in middle school, but the only time he fought the bullies was to protect a friend. When he was old enough to work, he cashed a paycheck from his first job and handed it to a homeless person.
“(His sister Taylor) and I were both just like, ‘What did you, why?’ And he just said, ‘I don’t know, I just felt like I should.’ He was just always doing stuff like that,” his mom, Kathy Ordway, said.
When he graduated from Wichita Heights High School, he joined the Marines and became a crew chief. It was a job that required him to help the pilot and co-pilot by acting as another set of eyes while navigating through hundreds of pages of manuals, thousands of feet off the ground.
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The U.S. Marine Corps confirmed Ordway was one of three Marines lost when their MV-22 Osprey aircraft crashed into the sea off the east coast of Australia while trying to land on Saturday.
The search and rescue was called off the next day and a recovery mission is underway.
There are still a number of unanswered questions regarding the crash, but if there’s one thing Kathy Ordway knows for sure, it’s that her son died helping others. She’s been able to communicate this week with some of the other Marines who are on his ship. One man told her that while he wasn’t on the plane, he imagines Ordway was helping everyone else get off safely.
“I guarantee he was helping,” she said.
Through tears, and some laughter, Kathy Ordway shared memories of her son’s life on Thursday. She talked about what led him to joining the Marines and plans for the future that ended too soon.
The epitome of a Marine
Looking at Cpl. Nathan Ordway’s official Marine portrait, Kathy Ordway said she doesn’t see her son. Not because of the uniform, or the cap or the American flag in the background, but because of the serious look on his face.
On all accounts, Ordway was the epitome of a Marine.
“He was the type of person that the Marine Corps always looked for,” Staff Sgt. Nick Harrell said. “He was extremely motivated and always pushed himself and others to do better.”
But his sense of humor is what set Ordway, 21, apart.
“His commanding officer called me from the ship and was just going on about how Nathan could always make people laugh, he was always so fun to be around,” Kathy Ordway said. “He said he was funny to the point of being goofy.”
Ordway didn’t necessarily grow up with the intention of becoming a Marine — but all the signs were there.
He liked to work on machines and enjoyed building things. He built treehouses in his backyard, and forts with his childhood friends.
One time Kathy Ordway walked into his room and saw him taking apart an old VCR.
“He wanted to see how it worked,” she said.
His parents tried getting him into sports. He played baseball for some time but would get distracted in the outfield — he’d have rather been chasing the butterflies. In high school he played football, but he wasn’t a competitive person.
His grandparents gave Kathy Ordway the idea of getting him into Tae Kwon Do, and it stuck.
“He went all the way up to black belt,” she said.
Dreams of flying
Ordway developed an interest in flying when he was young, but his dreams of becoming a fighter pilot disappeared with every inch he grew.
“He was a big kid,” Kathy Ordway said, explaining that her son knew pilots had to be shorter than he was becoming.
“It was all of those things combined, and him wanting to take care of people,” Kathy Ordway said.
After he graduated from high school, Ordway went to the Marine recruiter’s office in Wichita and signed up for five years.
Nick Harrell worked in the Wichita office at that time and developed a relationship with the young man.
“He was excited to be a Marine and just as excited to be a crew chief,” Harrell said. “Every chance he got, he would talk to me about aviation and what he could to do to prepare himself as a Marine and his journey ahead. I remember me and him used to have countless discussions about aviation, what to expect, both good and bad.”
“He loved his family so much”
Ordway was happiest in the military when he got to do hands on work, Kathy Ordway said. He was always the first to volunteer to fly and looked forward to training events.
But being deployed left him homesick for his family.
“He would want to Skype for hours,” his maternal grandmother, Val Reed, said.
Ordway’s roommate told his mom that one night the guys were out drinking when Ordway said he wanted to go home early. His reason?
To call mom.
“He loved his family so much,” she said.
Unliked most 21-year-olds, Kathy Ordway said her son never saw calling home as an obligation, but as something to look forward to. He wanted to eventually buy land and build his mom, his sisters and himself houses so they could be close together.
“He wanted to become a fireman or a paramedic with his sister,” Kathy Ordway said. “Everything those two had planned was together.”
His family has spent the last five days trying to keep each other strong.
“I was by myself when I was notified (of the crash),” she said. “I couldn’t do anything. I don’t remember a lot. I called my parents and they came and got me.”
Her parents, Richard and Val Reed, have stayed by her side since then, and helped Kathy Ordway gather her thoughts on Thursday.
“Why don’t you tell them about how he’d help the younger (Marines),” Val Reed encouraged.
“One Marine was having a hard time and Nathan helped him get through it,” Kat Ordway responded. “(The Marine) was young, and Nathan would take the time to show him everything and be patient.”
Dabbing her own tears with a tissue, Val Reed looked through childhood pictures of her grandson.
“We just want to get him home,” she said.