Since 1775, member of America’s Marine Corps have been noted for extraordinary acts of personal heroism both on and off the field of battle. The final acts of Major Taj T. Sareen, 34, of San Mateo County, California prove true the old Marine Corps adage, “Old breed? New breed? There’s not a damn bit of difference so long as it’s the Marine breed.”
According to civilian witnesses on the ground near the Royal Air Force base just outside of Lakenheath in the east of England, it was the Leatherneck’s quick thinking that saved untold number of lives. As reported by Morgan Chalfant of the Washington Free Beacon on Oct. 23, 2015, and also by Andrew Fitchett of the Watton and Swaffham Times (of Great Britain) on Oct 22, 2015, it was right after takeoff that Maj. Sareen’s F/A-18C Hornet appeared to experience some type of mechanical malfunction and then it was feared the jet would crash into a group of homes.
But the locals who witnessed Maj. Sareen’s stricken aircraft fall from the sky credit the Marine with making a concerted effort to clear the homes before ejecting, despite losing precious seconds and altitude which may have been one of the main reasons why the California native didn’t survive punching out. Karen Miles-Holdaway, 48, was in her garden, which backs onto the field where the jet crashed.
She stated that it seemed as if the aviator was deliberately steered the rapidly descending warplane away from homes beneath him. “It came over the houses much lower than they normally do,” she said. “Then I heard the noise which I can only describe as like an afterburner noise, a huge sound and nothing like the jets we normally have over here.”
“We didn’t realise it had actually come down, it was not really one loud bang,” she also said. “I have to say the whole community is feeling for the pilot’s family, and we send our condolences and prayers. I think that he could have ejected earlier, but was trying to avoid the houses and for that we are incredibly grateful.”
Another local who eyewitness the disaster, Patrick Turner, 72, said he felt the ground shake as the plane crashed and saw a fireball between 300 ft and 400 ft above the buildings. The retired farmworker said, “It sounded like the plane was coasting, then it sounded like he floored it, the noise was incredible. “There was a huge bang and I felt the ground shake.”
Mr. Turner also saw the pilot eject from the plane. As he said, “It looked like some sort of beacon had shot out. Once the parachute opened he floated across in front of me and ended up behind the trees. It was unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Back home in Hillsborough, California, reporter Natasha Zouves of KGO/ABC-7 (of San Francisco) interviewed the family patriarch, India-born K.B. Sareen retold of the last conversation he had with his son. “I’ll see you in two days, dad” the heartbroken father said.
The fallen hero’s parents and younger sister, Tanya, heard a jet from his squadron crashed early last Wednesday morning. Like untold numbers of Marine Corps families before them, now came the terrible hours of waiting to hear officially from the Corps on the status of Taj.
“Three Marine officers walked towards our house. They said, ‘it was your son,’ devastating,” K.B. said. Just as heartbreaking, the patriarch also stated, “So I’ll wait for those two days forever…”
A member of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 232, otherwise known as the Red Devils, Maj. Sareen and five other aviators were en route from Bahrain to the home base of Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, California, not far from downtown San Diego. The Red Devils are also the most decoration aviation squadron in the history of the Marine Corps.
Upon graduating from the University of San Francisco in 2004, Taj worked for a period of time for the New York Life Insurance Company. Turning his back on the corporate world, he joined the Marine Corps the following year to serve his country.
During his much too short 11-year Marine Corps career, he also earned his Masters degree in Military and Strategic Leadership from Auburn University. Among his numerous decorations include the the Air Wing version of the ground combat component’s Combat Action Ribbon – the Air Medal. The Major’s Air Medal denoted Strike/Flight “5”. Strikes are combat sorties that encounter enemy opposition. Flights are combat sorties that do not encounter enemy opposition.