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Tribute - Marine Corporal Erik Silva

The following is a tribute to the memory of Marine Corporal Erik Silva. Not only is this an amazing article about Corporal Silva, you'll see that his family is also part of the American Warrior Caste and you'll find a special Marine Corps Mom to be very, very proud of...

A Tribute to a Fallen Hero

By Tom Marnell
Erik Silva
Born September 10, 1980, Killed in Action April 4, 2003

On May 28th of this year my wife Charlotte and I had the privilege of visiting the Healing Field, which was erected for the public at Kirby Park, Wilkes-Barre, PA. This tribute to both the heroes and victims of the War on Terror was on display from May 15th thru May 31, 2004.

For those of you who have not heard of the "Healing Field", I could only describe it as follows: A large field divided by a long path. On one side of the path were approximately three thousand American Flags, and on each of these flags was the name of an individual who died as a result of the 9/11 tragedies. The number of flags represented the number of people whose lives were sacrificed on that dreadful day. On the other side of the path, there were flags placed in memory of each Allied Soldier who lost his or her life while serving in either Afghanistan or Iraq since 09/11/01. On each flag that represented a fallen Allied Soldier there was a yellow ribbon attached to the flagpole. Attached to the yellow ribbon there was a card and on each card there was the name of a soldier, the individual's age, hometown, branch of service and where and on what date he or she died.

For Charlotte and I, it was a very emotional experience. I cannot even begin to count how many times I wiped the tears from my eyes. But then, I was not alone. There were many people who walked among those many flags at Kirby Park that evening. I would venture to guess that few if any knew anyone represented by those flags. However, we were all struck with the same emotion for we all realized their tragedy and sacrifice.

For this past Fathers Day my family presented me with a flag that had been purchased at the Healing Field. The flag was in memory of Corporal Erik H. Silva. Erik was a Marine from Chula Vista, Calif. He was 22 years old when he died in Baghdad, Iraq on 04/04/03. Though I was struck with many emotions when I first was given the flag, my thoughts almost immediately turned to Erik. Who was Erik Silva? What was he doing in Baghdad? Was he truly a hero? The journey to answer these questions was much more difficult then I originally thought. The main obstacle was the fact that since 9/11, the military no longer will provide any information on a soldier or the soldier's family and though the justification for this policy is obvious, the policy still made my goal a lot more difficult.

In order to accomplish my goal I made contact with Senator Santorum's Office and also with Marine Recruiters Jim Seymour and John Winterstein. All provided invaluable assistance. John Winterstein, who originally recruited Erik, made arrangements for Erik's mother, Gloria, to contact me.

The following is an introduction to Erik H. Silva:

Erik was born on September 10, 1980. As a very young man he always wanted to follow in his uncle Sergio Hernandez' shoes. Sergio was a Corporal in the Marines who served in Operation Desert Storm. So it was only natural that Erik also wanted to be a Marine. From age three Erik would wear his camouflage fatigues and march around the house carrying his toy rifle. Erik also had a distinguished high school career and had been highlighted by the Holtville newspaper, which is also the name of the community where Erik was raised. At Holtville High he was drum major for the school band, played first trumpet, received the U.S. Marines Semper Fidelis award for musical excellence and also received the national John Philip Sousa Award as did his three siblings. Erik also played golf and soccer for his high school. Yet none of this could keep him from his dream and shortly after High School Erik finally joined the Marines. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Division based at Camp Pendleton, California. This was no surprise to anyone who knew Erik for he came from a military family. Besides his Uncle Sergio, Erik's older brother Isaac was in the Air Force and is presently in the National Guard and his younger sister Gloria is in the Navy and is stationed in Tennessee.

On February 6, 2003 shortly after the 1st Division received orders transferring the division to Camp Doha, Qatar as a staging area before being sent to Iraq, Gloria Silva went to Camp Pendleton to say good-by to her son. She squeezed him and sobbed uncontrollably. She couldn't let him go. She told me that she felt at the time that if she let him go, she would never get him back. This is the last time Mrs. Silva would see Erik alive.

On March 9, 2003 Mrs. Silva would hear from Erik for the last time. His Division was now in Kuwait. Erik's knee was bothering him. He wanted it to heel before they moved out. Erik knew that the battle was within a matter of days. Gloria again began to cry. She pleaded with Erik to be careful. Erik told her to be calm and not to be afraid. He reminded his mother that he is a Marine. He has prepared for this day his entire life; from when he was three years old he was preparing to serve his country as a Marine. In closing the conversation he told his mother, "you must be strong, you must also be a Marine."

On April 4, 2003 Gloria Silva was taking her daughter to the bus station. The daughter had just completed military leave and was in the process of returning to Tennessee where she was stationed. On the way back from the bus station Gloria received a call from her mother, Mrs. Hernandez, who was crying. Mrs. Hernandez had received a call from the police department asking for Erik's mother and father. A short time later Gloria received a second call. This time it was from a neighbor who was also crying. She advised Gloria that she was needed home as soon as possible. Gloria immediately knew there was something wrong in that the neighbor had never before called her. Gloria then called her son Jay and began to cry. She told Jay she felt that something had happened to Erik. Jay assured her that nothing had happened. He informed his mother that arrangements were made for him to be contacted first in case something were to happen to Erik. He assured Gloria that everything was OK. A short while later Gloria approached her home and the unthinkable was before her. In front of the house was parked a government vehicle and inside the house waited two Marines and two Chaplains. Erik Silva had been killed during an ambush of his unit after it entered Iraq and approached Baghdad.

On the first anniversary of Erik's death, Erik's family gathered and was visited by approximately fifteen soldiers who served with Erik. Though there were some tears, there were also some stories and some laughter. You see, Erik's family was determined to celebrate Erik's life rather than mourn his death. A number of the soldiers that served with Erik in Iraq had Erik's name tattooed on their shoulder to insure that they never forget. Neither does Gloria Silva forget what Erik told her. Whenever tragedy befalls the 1st Division, Gloria returns to Camp Pendleton to offer support to the families. She also offers support to the families of any fallen soldiers within driving distance of her home. After all, Gloria is strong and if being a Marine is synonymous with commitment, sense of duty and putting the mission above self, then Gloria is a Marine too.

We often read of the number of soldiers that have made the ultimate sacrifice during this war on terror. Today the number of American soldiers killed is in excess of 900. Recently, Night Line televised the names of every soldier killed up to that date. Their effort was viewed with skepticism as to their motives. Regardless of the efforts or motives, neither the number nor the names tell us anything about our fallen soldiers or their families. So, this article is intended to place a face on a single hero and his family.

This article is not intended to impose my opinion of this war on anyone. However, I do believe it is important to recognize our soldiers and their families for the sacrifices they make for us. If you see a soldier in uniform at an airport or bus terminal, please take the time to thank him. He may very well be traveling to or from harm's way.

For those interested, John Winterstein, who was mentioned as the recruiter in the article is actively involved in shipping hundreds of care packages to the Marines in Iraq. Below is where you can send a check or money order:

    Marine Corps League Det 942
    John Wintersteen
    945 Sycamore Circle
    Danville CA 94526

If anyone (especially if you a Soldier or Marine "in country") wants John's email address, send me a request for it via email (the Marine Corps League is a non-profit 501(c) organization).