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Eric Ward's family members recall fallen soldier's dual natures

Above, U.S. Marine Eric Ward greets a young boy in Afghanistan’s Helmand province last fall. Ward helped collect crayons for children in Afghanistan during his tour there. Family members of Ward, a Mount Si grad who died Feb. 21 as a result of hostile action, recalled his generosity and warmth. - Courtesy photo
Above, U.S. Marine Eric Ward greets a young boy in Afghanistan’s Helmand province last fall. Ward helped collect crayons for children in Afghanistan during his tour there. Family members of Ward, a Mount Si grad who died Feb. 21 as a result of hostile action, recalled his generosity and warmth.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

As a freshman at Mount Si High School, Eric Ward already knew he wanted to be a Marine.

“For a while, he didn’t even talk about it,” said Eric’s father, Steven Ward. “He was just hanging out with his buddies and playing ball.”

By his junior year, Marine recruiters were coming to school and holding Saturday camps. When he turned 17, Eric called his parents from the recruiter’s office to tell them he was signing up for the Marines.

“It was his 17th birthday,” said Eric’s mother, Monica McNeal. “His only favor was for me to sign the papers for him to become a Marine.”

Less than two years after graduating from Mount Si in 2008, Ward had risen to become a Marine lance corporal. He died Sunday, Feb. 21, while serving in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.

Soft side

Family members remember Eric as having two contrasting natures — the tough soldier and the warm, generous young man.

“He had this extremely soft side and this part that was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice to serve his country,” McNeal said.

Eric always had other people’s interests in mind, even if he didn’t show it.

“He was a tough kid, but he was always generous,” said Ward. “He’s probably cost his mom and I a lot of money over the years, but he never just bought for himself. He’d always give things to the kids who couldn’t.”

Volunteering his family to supply cupcakes and pizzas for school fundraisers and events, Eric’s generosity extended during his adult years, when he convinced his parents to help buy gear for fellow Marines who were less fortunate than him.

“Not every Marine comes from a strong, supportive family, so he reached out,” Ward said. “He called me one day and (said) ‘Dad, some of these guys don’t have everything they need.’”

Eric had wit and humor, and could crack a joke back at a teller as fast as it was told.

His father remembers his casual demeanor. Even when Eric knew what he wanted from someone, he always listened, nodded, and thought for a moment about a request.

“He truly lived in the moment,” McNeal said. “He wasn’t like ‘I’ll do it later,’ he was ‘Let’s do it today.’ He was at peace with himself because he accomplished today.”

“He was life smart,” Ward added. “He had good comprehension and common sense.”

Town memorial

An official honor ceremony for Eric is 9 a.m. Saturday, March 13, at the Mount Si High School gymnasium. Friends will speak, and there will be a a full Marine Corps traditional memorial and 21 gun salute.

“We did this because of all the people here,” said McNeal. “He’s going to be laid to rest in Arlington (National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.), but this is where his people are, where his home is.”

“We’re just hoping to get peace out of this memorial,” Ward said.

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