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Thank you, 1st Lt. Shaun Blue, for a life of integrity and service

Do Americans truly appreciate the sacrifice that this marine made on their behalf?

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My unit finished its deployment in November, and I returned to civilian life in the United States last month. It was only then that I began to mourn and truly take stock of Blue.

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It had been almost a year since Blue's death in Iraq when I received a letter from his unit that he had been posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with "V" for valor combat distinguishing device. Many times during his service in Iraq, Blue exposed himself in dangerous situations to accomplish missions with the fledgling Iraqi police.

Honoring a Bronze Star winner

To honor Blue's Bronze Star, several fellow marines and I decided to make the trip to Munster, Ind., to see Blue's parents and pay our final respects to our lost friend.

On the way to Blue's parents' house earlier this month, I noticed a billboard on Ridge Road heading into Munster that said: "IN MEMORY OF 1ST LT SHAUN BLUE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS."

At Jim and Debbie Blue's house, I had the honor of listening to several other marines who served with Blue tell his parents fond memories of their son.

There was the time when Blue's truck broke down 30 miles outside the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on the very day he was supposed to report into his first fleet unit. With limited options, Blue ran all 30 miles into town and checked into his unit.

There was the other time when a tough sergeant challenged him to a boxing match. Normally, it would be best for a green lieutenant with little to no boxing experience to avoid stepping into the ring against a golden-glove boxer who had beaten everyone in the entire platoon. After continued nagging, Blue knocked out the veteran boxer with his first punch.

On April 5, several lieutenants who had flown in from around the country headed to Munster's Community Veterans Memorial Park. Each of us expressed surprise that Munster's memorial park, filled with lifelike sculptures of soldiers in action, rivaled any monument we've seen in the nation's capital.

At the ceremony, Blue's parents were awarded his well-deserved Bronze Star, one of the military's highest awards. After the presentation, the crowd walked through the park grounds on a red brick path, observing the monuments to wars past. Near the middle of the path, there is now a brick dedicated to Blue. Very close by is another brick dedicated to his grandfather, Marine veteran Cecil T. Blue. I'm certain that Blue's bedrock character was in a large part influenced by his elderly mentor, whom he spoke of often.

A face of character etched in stone

After walking through Memorial Park, we walked over to a beautiful brick pavilion. In the middle of the exhibit is a permanent display of black polished granite that reflects images almost as clearly as a mirror.