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Texas USA

The Shoes

Two Marine families become linked on a sorrowful path

Illustration by John Kachik

Several years ago our son, Staff Sgt. Alex A. Ramon III, received the dreadful news of the passing of a close Marine friend, Cpl. John C. Flynn. They had previously served together on one of many combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alex was John’s squad leader—and the only son of my wife, Drucilla, and me.

With tears in his eyes, our son slowly said, “Dad, one gets calloused in seeing awful things in war, but you never get used to seeing a fellow Marine die.”

Our son was processing the news when he got another phone call. The family of Cpl. Flynn was requesting our son’s presence. A Marine was needed to supervise and assist the funeral home on the proper placement of their son in his dress blue uniform. Our son left to support his friend’s family.

Arriving in Arkansas, Alex immersed himself in the sorrowful task at hand. At the funeral home, he immediately noticed that John’s shoes for his dress blues were missing. A call to the family requesting the shoes provided no results. Without further burdening the family, our son took the initiative and acted quickly to remedy the situation in time for the funeral. Alex subsequently kept in touch with John’s family and provided them comfort the best he could.

Two years later, the unimaginable occurred—our son passed away. Alex died December 6, 2015, from cardiac arrest caused by mixing alcohol with opioids he was prescribed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

How can you understand or explain the pain of losing a child? Nothing can prepare you. Remembering what our son endured emotionally with the task of supervising the preparation of his friend for the funeral, we requested the Marine assigned to this duty not be a friend or an acquaintance of Alex. We did not want to inflict more sorrow on any of Alex’s friends.

Funeral arrangements had to be made, and we were numb. The sudden loss placed us in limbo, but as with John’s family, we received a call from the funeral director, who said, “We have received the uniform, but we still need his shoes.” We had no idea where our son’s shoes were.

As the arrangements were progressing, minus the shoes, one of the Marines who came by to give his condolences had been contacted by John’s family and said they wanted to speak with us. John’s dad told us his family was coming from Arkansas and would like to attend our son’s funeral. I said, “Of course, this would be nice. My wife and I would be extremely grateful and would surely welcome the support.”

John’s father paused—then proceeded to request a favor. He said, “It would be an honor if you would allow Alex to wear John’s shoes.” At this point I was stunned since I knew the funeral home needed shoes for our son’s uniform. Had John’s father spoken to the funeral home? I was confused but at the same time relieved. “Of course we would do it; it would be an honor,” I answered.

John’s father recounted the story of how his family could not locate John’s shoes before their son’s funeral. Now that time had passed, they had unexpectedly found the shoes, and he went on to describe the unselfish act our son performed the day of their son’s funeral. Knowing John’s shoes were missing, Alex had taken immediate action, removing his shoes and placing them on his friend. We had no idea all this had occurred. Our son never mentioned what he had done.

We told John’s family that we could not find Alex’s shoes to give to the funeral home. Now we knew why.

The burial proceeded, and our son was buried with John’s shoes.

Although it has been years since our son’s funeral, it feels like yesterday. An invisible wound remains, but faith remains the best remedy for the pain, especially believing that God intervened in the lives of these two Marines and made this amazing story possible. Two different families, from two close friends, were tasked to walk in each other’s shoes.

What is left now are loving, indelible memories of our sons and a living testament of the bond Marines share that transcends explanation.

Reprinted and edited from the December 2019 issue of Leatherneck, a Marine Corps Association monthly magazine.