KING, WA, USA
LCPL, WPNS CO, 2D BN, 2D MAR, (RCT-7, MEB-A FWD) 2D MAR DIV, CAMP LEJEUNE, NC
HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN 02/21/2010
Hundreds gathered Saturday in North Bend to honor Eric L. Ward, a 19-year-old Marine from Redmond who died in combat last month in Afghanistan.
Lance Corporal Ward, a machine-gunner, was killed by an IED, or improvised explosive device, during an offensive in southern Afghanistan Feb. 23.
Weeks later, about 500 people came together in North Bend to celebrate his life. Dozens of former service members and Boy Scouts carrying American flags lined the streets before the memorial, and many active Marines attended to show their support.
“You’re all sitting here today because of a hero,” said Andrew Ward, Eric Ward’s older brother, the first of 10 family and friends who spoke about the Marine.
In a nod to Lance Corporal Ward’s lighthearted personality, Andrew Ward and others tried to add humor to their remarks. Several shared funny stories, including the time Lance Corporal Ward participated in a contest where he and a female partner had to run into the ocean and switch bathing suits.
Others focused on the Marine’s generosity and commitment to his country.
“He was a gift to this world,” said Serena Norris, Lance Corporal Ward’s girlfriend. “Eric has shown us to fight for what we believe in, no matter the sacrifice.”
The final and most emotional speaker, father Steven Ward, shared part of a letter he wrote after learning of the death.
“Dear Eric, my son,” Steven Ward started before stopping to compose himself.
“You leave a legacy, not because you built a rocket or flew to space, but because of the way you touched people,” the letter said. “You made a difference.”
The memorial was held in the gymnasium of Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, where Lance Corporal Ward graduated in 2008. Long before that, he had decided to be a Marine like three generations before him.
“Nobody could stop him, no money could change that, no excuse could hold him back,” Lance Corporal Ward’s other brother, Greg Ward, said of that decision.
Besides the speakers, the memorial featured a video tribute and a presentation of the Purple Heart award by active Marines.
Gabor Veress, 74, of Tacoma, a U.S. Army veteran who did not know Lance Corporal Ward but attended the memorial, said it’s important to honor fallen soldiers.
“We appreciate the service he gave for his country,” said Veress, holding an American flag on the road outside the high school
Byron Moore, 50, a small-business owner in North Bend, also stood on the wet road holding a flag, alongside his two sons.
“I guess as a show of respect,” said Moore, explaining why he came. “I honestly didn’t think a whole bunch about it other than I thought I should be here.”