Mourners Gather to Pay Final Respects to Aberdeen Soldier
Mourners packed the Old Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen Monday afternoon at a service for Staff Sgt. Justin C. Marquez. They filled every pew downstairs, filled the balcony, and and overflow crowd stood outside. The roar of Patriot Guard motorcycles heralded the arrival of a cortege that had made its way from Boles Funeral Home in Southern Pines shortly after 3:30 p.m. It traveled down U.S. 1. where American flags lined the way, and traffic was stopped and pulled over to honor the fallen soldier, who was killed in Afghanistan while on patrol earlier this month.
The funeral coach bearing a flag-draped casket carrying the body of Marquez was pulled by a motorcycle and escorted by Patriot Guard riders. His body was returned by private plane Sunday morning at Moore County Airport.
Hundreds of friends, family and other mourners met the plane. They stood solemnly, hands on hearts or lifted in silent salute as an honor guard of uniformed Special Forces soldiers from his unit bore the flag-draped casket to a waiting hearse.
Marquez, 25, of Aberdeen, and Warrant Officer Joseph L. Schiro, 27, of Coral Springs, Fla., were shot while on patrol in the Chak district of Wardak Province, Afghanistan. They died from wounds received from small-arms fire on Saturday, the Army said. Both were assigned to the 1st Special Forces Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne), out of Fort Bragg.
The 4 p.m. service was a simple one, beginning with the strains of a solo guitar and "There’s a Man that You Can Count On …" It was marked by the reading of the Special Forces Creed from a copy Marquez had written out himself and always carried. A boyhood friend recalled “good times” and how he could not believe his ears when he heard his friend had fallen in battle. It led him to a verse from 2nd Timothy.
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the good race. I have kept the faith."
His friend Justin, he said, had fought a good fight, “finished an awesome race – and he kept his faith.”
Speaking about his son, Mark Marquez told the crowds inside and those listening outside on speakers how much their presence meant.
“Thank you all for coming,“ he said. “Today we appreciate the honor that you have shown me – and my family – and, most importantly, my son. I thank everybody that lined the streets and all the work that has been done.
“Special Forces is what my son aspired to. For my son – my wife’s son, and his twin brother – he was our son and brother first. He was more than a Special Forces soldier. He was clearly a community member – and of all those skateboard tricks you made, there were 10,000 you didn’t make but your never gave up. My son never gave up. I gave him to the military. He was a soldier. I would like everybody to celebrate Justin Marquez’s life. I think he deserves this acknowledgement. Thank you, everybody, for your time.”
A Special Forces Chaplain compared Marquez’s orders to a biblical command in Genesis: “Abram, Depart from thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, to a land that I will show thee…”
It was a mission the young soldier carried out at the cost of his life.
Afterwards, at a graveside interment ceremony – ringed by Patriot Guards, each with an American flag — the new commander of the JFK Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg knelt before Marquez’s parents Mark and Terry Marquez, then before twin brother Drew, and then before girlfriend Stephanie Moore, to present each with a carefully folded flag, a gift in memory from the United States of America.
Army Maj. Gen. Ed Reeder offered each the “thanks of a grateful nation” for the loyal, courageous service of their fallen warrior.
Later, as people passed by to speak with members of the family, the general praised Marquez, calling him a fine Special Forces warrior.
“He was a great Green Beret,” the general said. “We will miss him dearly, but we will never forget him.”
He had not heard that twin brother Drew Marquez had joined the U.S. Navy.
“He will be a great sailor," Reeder said.
As the people were leaving, Mark Marquez again thanked them all again. It was gratitude he’d often expressed.
On Sunday, as he waited for his son’s plane to arrive, Mark Marquez took a moment to thank all those who had come out to Knollwood Field on a Sunday morning to make such a demonstration of respect.
“We appreciate everybody coming out, offering respect to my son both as a civilian and a service member,” Marquez said. “He was both, and we respect both parts of him. We want to lift him up in both areas. We thank our community for rallying around us. Certainly in our time of need there are so many people we never even met that lifted themselves up on behalf of our son.”
A large contingent of motorcycled Patriot Guards had turned out, waiting at attention as the aircraft taxied to a halt, then saluting.
“We are here to honor and respect Staff Sgt. Justin Marquez and escort him from the airport to the funeral home today,” their leader, Melanie Spangler from Fayetteville said. “Tomorrow we will escort him from the funeral home to the church. We are just here to honor and respect.”
Many of the Marquez family – from his grandmother to a number of cousins – were part of the large airport crowd waiting for their soldier to come home from the war.
“We are happy to bring Justin home, happy that he is back in Moore County,” his mother said as she waited. “We will be glad to visit with him and … see him – ’cause we haven’t yet – so all of our family is here. It is a beautiful thing. Justin is really bringing a lot of people together that we never – never – met. We are feeling the love of our community, We are happy to have him back home.”
Twin brother Drew Marquez loved his Hoke County high school teaching job, but he resigned in September. He’d taken a different job.
Fallen Green Beret Carried Creed in his Wallet
Mark Marquez found something in his son’s wallet he hadn’t known was there. That billfold was among personal effects returned to the family on Monday after their fallen soldier’s body was brought back to the United States.
Staff Sgt. Justin Cameron Marquez, 25, of Aberdeen, and Warrant Officer Joseph L. Schiro, 27, of Coral Springs, Fla., died from wounds received from small-arms fire on Saturday while on patrol in the Chak district of Wardak Province, Afghanistan.
Their families had met at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where those who die in battle are repatriated. Mark Marquez discovered a sheet of three-hole notebook paper, folded and wrinkled by time, his son had carried with him.
On it, Justin Marquez had written out the words of the Special Forces Creed – a creed composed long ago during the time the late Lt. Gen. William C. Yarborough commanded the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg.
Yarborough – who spent the last years of his life in retirement in Southern Pines – is hailed at “the father of the modern Special Forces” and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Earlier this year Ross Perot came to the base to dedicate a bronze statue commemorating the day Yarborough, wearing the unauthorized Green Beret, saluted his Commander-in-Chief.
“Nice headgear, soldier,” President Kennedy told him.
“It’s not authorized, sir,” Yarborough replied.
“It is now,” the president ordered.
As commander of the school, Yarborough oversaw the adoption of much of what were to become enduring symbols: the Green Beret, the Special Forces Prayer, the Special Forces Motto and the Special Forces Creed.
Its summation of his duty was so important to the young soldier that he’d copied it out word for word, then kept it in his wallet. That piece of paper, stained and worn, had obviously been opened and read many times, the father said.
The writing was immediately recognized by mother Terry Marquez the moment she saw it.
“You see, that’s Justin’s own handwriting,” she said. “And he did every single one of these things – except for the last, the very last line: ‘My goal is to succeed in my mission, and to live to succeed again.’ That’s my son. He wrote all this. I am just saying he didn’t live again to do his next mission – but he did every single thing. It is beautiful. That is his own handwriting.”
Veterans passing through the line to pay respects at Sunday’s visitation had a different view. He and Schiro may have died accomplishing their mission that day, in those faraway hills – but they did not fail, the veterans said. Schiro and Marquez carried out their mission; they succeeded – though at the cost of their lives.
At the top of the page Marquez had written “SF Creed” and, to the right, the Special Forces Motto:
and under it, in parentheses, its meaning: “To Free the Oppressed.”
Laboriously, Marquez then had written out – apparently from memory – stanzas of the Creed:
I am an American Special Forces Soldier
I am a volunteer, knowing well the hazards of my profession
I serve with the memory of those who have gone before me.
I pledge to uphold the honor and integrity of their legacy.
in all that I am in all that I do.
I am a warrior
I will teach and fight whenever and wherever my nation requires.
I will strive always to excel in every art and artifice of war.
I know that I will be called upon to perform tasks in isolation,
far from familiar faces and voices.
With the help and guidance of my faith,
I will conquer my fears and succeed.
I will keep my mind and body clean, alert and strong.
I will maintain my arms and equipment in an immaculate state befitting
a Special Forces Soldier,
for this is my debt to those who depend upon me
I will not fail those with whom I serve.
I will not bring shame upon myself or Special Forces.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I will never surrender though I am last.
If I am taken, I pray that I have the strength to defy my enemy.
I am a member of my Nation's chosen soldiery
I serve quietly, not seeking recognition or accolades
My goal is to succeed in my mission - and live to succeed again
De Oppresso Liber
(as handwritten by Staff Sgt. Justin C. Marquez)
“He’s joined the Navy,” his mother said. “He leaves Dec. 5 for basic training. Justin had been trying to get Drew to join the Army all these years, and Drew is like, ‘No; the Army’s not for me.’ So he looked at the Coast Guard. he looked at the Air Force, and eventually decided on the Navy. He joined back in August, and is supposed to report for duty December fifth. I think he wants to be an airman; that’s what he is looking at right now. He might end up on a carrier.”
Last Monday, the Marquez and Shiro families met at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where those who die in Afghanistan are repatriated.
“Justin's comrade, Joseph Schiro, should be written about as well,” said Terry Marquez. “He and his young family lived in Fayetteville. We were able to meet with his parents at Dover, and he sounded so much like Justin - always ready to go out on patrol and volunteering for everything. He wanted to go to dive school next, just as Justin did. It was so strange hearing how similar they are.”
The Marquez family is asking everyone to make donations to their favorite charity of choice in lieu of flowers.
A visitation was held last night at Boles Funeral Home in Southern Pines where long lines wound their way to pass by and express their gratitude and pay respects to Marquez and his family. Leaning against the open casket just at one corner was the young man’s old skateboard.
Later today a funeral service will be conducted at the Old Bethesda Presbyterian Church on Bethesda Road in Aberdeen at 4 p.m. with graveside service and burial to follow in Bethesda Cemetery.
Services at Bethesda church are to be open to the public in honor not only of his service, but of all who serve. They will be simple, as the fallen soldier wanted, his mother said.
"No military honors, as Justin wanted a funeral for friends and family," she said. "There will be a Special Forces chaplain."
Justin Marquez and his twin brother, Drew, were born in Salem, Mass., on March 25, 1987. The family moved to North Carolina when they were 2 months old. Their father, Dr. Mark Marquez, is a social worker who is an assistant professor in that department at Fayetteville State University. His brother is a high school science teacher, and their mother a school librarian at Elise Middle School in Robbins.
"He started school at LaGrange Elementary in LaGrange, next to Kinston, when we lived at the Baptist Children's Home in Kinston," she said. "He went to school at Carthage Elementary for a short time after we moved to Moore County (when they were in fourth grade), but then attended Aberdeen Elementary.“He was in the first graduating class of Southern Middle School. He graduated from Pinecrest High School in 2005 and attended SCC and Pembroke University before enlisting in the U.S. Army in Jan. 2009.
“He was living in his own home in Aberdeen and commuted to Fort Bragg every day,” Terry Marquez said. “He was also survived by his girlfriend, Stephanie Moore, of Pinehurst, and many other relatives from Sanford, Lillington, Wilmington, Jacksonville and Syracuse, N.Y.”After one final salute and a word of thanks from a grateful family by Mark Marquez, Patriot Guards on their cycles bearing the flags of the state and the nation led off, white hearse and family cars in their midst. As the procession came up Pennsylvania Avenue in Southern Pines it passed beneath the extended long ladder of a fire truck with the Stars and Stripes softly fluttering overhead.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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