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City remembers 'true American hero'

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

The American flags lining the front drive of the Heartland Worship Center on Saturday left no doubt that Aaron C. Torian had served his country with honor.

And the line of mourners extending from the church's auditorium and through the lobby showed that Torian had earned the respect of many over the course of his 36 years - more than 10 of which he spent in the Marine Corps.

Yet Torian's celebration of life ceremony centered just as much on his role as a husband, father, brother and son as it did on his formidable achievements as a Marine.

Torian's mother, Esta Smith, took the lectern in the worship center's auditorium to share her memories of Torian, a master sergeant who died Feb. 15 from injuries received during combat training operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

"Aaron held onto the things he believed in: faith, love, and freedom," she said. "Aaron wasn't preachy or in your face, but his life spoke volumes."

In even tones, Smith described Torian as an inquisitive child with bright blue eyes and a sly smile that often indicated he was up to mischief. He loved to draw, and was the kind of kid who would take apart his toys just to see how they worked, she said.

"Aaron had his weaknesses, as we all do - basically math - but he never let fear keep him from celebrating that unique person he was," she said.

As he grew older, Smith said, Torian conquered home improvement tasks with the same enthusiasm and determination he put into his career in the Marines.

"His work ethic was remarkable. He was a warrior as a Marine, that has been established. ... However, Aaron could and would try anything," she said.

A Paducah native, Torian attended high school in Waldorf, Md., and went to the University of Tennesee-Martin on a football scholarship. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Health and Human Performance, then completed his master's in Instructional Leadership at Tennessee Tech University. This was where he met his wife, Jurley Pomeroy, with whom he had three children: Elijah, 9; Laura Bella, 4; and Avery, 2.

Torian joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2003 and rose quickly through the ranks. At 28, he was named the Second Marine Division's Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year. He was assigned in 2006 to the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Marine Special Operations Regiment, U.S. Marine Corp Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and promoted to Master Sergeant in Sept. 2013.

Torian served two tours in Iraq and three in Afghanistan. He embarked on his sixth tour in Oct. 2013.

Although he earned numerous awards - including the Purple Heart, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon with gold star - Torian was always humble about his achievements.

"The conversation was always about how blessed he felt and how he thanked God for his beautiful family. Humility was the definition of Aaron," Smith said.

Smith said that she hadn't known her son had received a Purple Heart until she saw him in full uniform. When she asked why he hadn't told her about the honor, Torian replied that he didn't want her to worry.

Smith concluded her speech with a direct address to her son.

"Thank God for the blessing and honor of allowing me to be your mom," Smith said. "Semper Fi - always faithful. My son, you are a true American hero," she said through tears.  

In honor of Torian's achievements, Mayor Gayle Kaler read a proclamation designating April 5, 2014 as Aaron Torian Day.

Before the final prayer of the ceremony, the Paducah chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America presented the Torian family with a message from the Galveston County, Texas, chapter of the VVA. It stated that never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.

Torian was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in February.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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