Today I walked barefoot through Barrancas National Cemetery, NAS. I looked at burial sites that dated back to the 1800’s and saw empty clay pits awaiting the next person that sacrificed their life for our county. And while I visited my dad’s grave marker today, I was there for the purpose of honoring one Marine who gave his life for our great nation, Corporal JR Spears.

Corporal Spears was killed in action in Ramadi, Iraq, while serving in the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Corporal Spears was the recipient of the Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, National Defense Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Expert Rifleman and the Purple Heart. Preceded in death by his grandparents Miriam and Johnny Kipper; and great-grandparents, Edward and Jose Spears, and Earl and Lillie Mae Cross. (Extracted from obituary in the Pensacola News Journal, October 2005.)

Corporal Spears was 21 years old when he gave his life for our country.

When I turned 21 all I could think about was how I could get drunk legally and not worry about getting caught.

How selfish and shallow minded I was.

I find myself short of words on how the last few days have impacted me. And for those that know me personally, you know that’s a rarity. So I will do the best I can to share what I know and experienced through lens instead of a bunch of words.

Corporal J.R Spears, USMC gave his life for this country . . . for you . . . for me.

And that takes my breath away.

Corporal Spears is a recipient of the Purple Heart medal.

Corporal Spears’ family, except for his mother, were present at a ceremony honoring his life and sacrifice and received his Purple Heart medal at Veterans Memorial Park Pensacola

It is said losing a child is one of the hardest things a parent will endure. Corporal Spears’ mom died of a broken heart after losing her beloved son.

Corporal Spears’s mother’s final resting place . . . is with her son.

Oh how my heart hurts.

The family was escorted from Barrancas by the Infidels Motorcycle Club to Veterans Memorial Park, Pensacola.

The ceremony began with the presentation of colors.

There were several speakers Saturday, each one sharing their gratitude to the family, for not only their son’s service and ultimate sacrifice, but also theirs as a family that stood behind their son . . . even to the end.

LtCol Dave Glassman, USMC (Ret) welcomed the family and thanked everyone for coming.
Patriot Chris Lambert, MOPH Department of Florida Chaplain, led us in a moment of prayer.
CWO5 Roberto Fernandez, USMC (Ret) shared how passionate JR was to serve as a United States Marine.
LtCol Andrew Del Gaudio, USMC (Ret) served with JR.

You could feel the heaviness.

Then there was Colonel Christopher “Caveman” Holzworth, USMC (Ret). He spoke soft but carried a big message.

Col Christopher “Caveman” Holzworth, USMC (Ret)

“JR was a ‘favorite son’ of the greater Pensacola area who was a patriot and a servant to the community as he answered his inner calling to defend the nation after 911. JR enlisted in the Marine Corps during a time of war and made the ultimate sacrifice while defending his nation with the highest honor.”

Our final speaker was a local teacher from Tate High School. She made an intimate, personal connection with the family when she shared her heart over losing her own father, Charlie McDaniel, USN (Ret) during a training accident in April, 2010.

It was a powerful moment.

Mrs. Caroline Gray

The closing of the ceremony included placing the Purple Heart wreath at JR’s marker –

My life was forever changed Saturday. I don’t want to ever forget about the sacrifice Corporal JR Spears made. I don’t want to forget the sacrifice his family has made. And I don’t want to forget the men and women who continue to serve our great country, who have served in the past, and continue to serve through various agencies in our community . . .

And I don’t ever want to forget that the ones who serve, signed up knowing that they too could be the one coming home in a wooden box.

I know I’ve shared a lot of pictures. I was just so moved by the presence and outpouring of support from fellow servicemen and woman that I needed to capture every moment I could.

Lord, I pray for J.R’s family today. I pray for peace and comfort that only you can give. Bless them. Protect them. Meet their needs. Amen.