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05-23-12, 12:16 PM #1
A Long Road Home For Liberian US Marine5/23/2012 By U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Mark Lazane , Marine Forces Africa
FLEHLA, Liberia — In 1998, during the Liberian civil wars, U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Abraham Tarwoe, then age 12, fled the violence of his home country, searching for peace.
“For many reasons, he didn’t want to leave Liberia; he had his friends and his life, but he saw the opportunity that existed in the U.S., so he went,” Tarwoe’s uncle, John Kar said. “We all saw the potential that existed for him in the United States.”
Unfortunately, Tarwoe’s return to his native land would occur under far more solemn circumstances.
Tarwoe, of Providence, R.I., and a Marine with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Camp Lejuene, N.C., lost his life from wounds sustained in combat in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 12. In a service befitting his status as a hero, Tarwoe was laid to rest with full military honors in his home village of Flehla, Bong County, Liberia, May 17.
“Family was very important to him, so he made it clear that if he were to die, he wanted his body to come back to where he was born,” said Kar. “We have a family cemetery, and he wanted to continue to be a part of the family when he passed away.”
Tarwoe had plans to return to Liberia this summer following his redeployment, which would have been the first trip back to his home since he left.
So it was instead on this day, under a constant threat of rain, that a group of more than 200 people gathered on his family’s property to celebrate Tarwoe’s life in a midday ceremony.
Attendees were a mix of local villagers, friends and family from the United States and Liberia and a contingent of fellow service members currently stationed in Liberia. Many arrived hours before the ceremony, finding places to calmly sit and reflect upon the life of a man they knew as a little boy, a boy that had been returned to them, all grown up.
The group crowded under a makeshift canopy, a temporary structure made up of low-hanging branches intertwined to make a thatched roof held up by bamboo poles. Some attendees were able to sit on benches made of two-by-fours and cinder block.
When the seats ran out, the people stood.
There were many standing. Following remarks from friends, family members and U.S. military representatives, Marine Corps casket bearers slowly brought Tarwoe across the rocky, uneven terrain to his final resting place.
“We all have the desire to return to our home someday,” said Isaac Padmore, Tarwoe’s uncle and, as an ordained minister, the officiator of the ceremony.
“Sometimes people return home sooner than others, but we’ll all get there eventually, and when we do, Abraham will be waiting for us.”
Being a member of the U.S. Marine Corps was not the first thing on his mind when Tarwoe arrived in the United States in 1998. Upon arrival, Tarwoe moved in with family members; first in Providence, R.I., then later, in Newark, N.J., as his parents were not able to come with him to America.
“The first couple of months were difficult for him, because he really missed home and the people he left,” Kar said. “But he adjusted because he met his uncles, cousin and aunts and realized everything would be fine.”
In high school, Tarwoe excelled in sports, particularly track and field and football, where he played running back for Westside High School.
“He was an absolute beast, a monster on the field,” said U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Wiles, 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, Camp Lejuene, N.C., a fellow Liberian who, while growing up in Willingboro, N.J., first met Abraham in high school when their teams played each other.
“He ran with grace and elegance. Being an opponent, I remember standing on the sidelines and saying, ‘Man, I can’t stand that guy’.” When not engaged in school activities, Tarwoe enjoyed watching and playing football and soccer, and being with friends and his family.
“He had this contagious smile,” said Wiles. “He was basically never upset. If something happened, he would forget it in like ten minutes. He was a happy guy.”
Following graduation, Tarwoe returned to Rhode Island, where he moved back in with his uncle and began to think about his future. A short time later, Tarwoe met a few old friends who had joined the Marines; a chance encounter that would ultimately change his life.
“Abraham came to me and my older brother one day and said he had met some friends who were Marines and decided that he wanted to be one as well,” said Kar, who had taken steps to become a U.S. Navy officer himself when he was younger.
“He said, ‘Uncle John, I want to follow in your footsteps in trying to join the military, but I want to do so with the Marines.’”
“I told him it was a great idea, that if he wanted to be a Marine, he should go all in for it, and he immediately began working toward that goal.”
Tarwoe joined the Marines in 2009.
“He loved being a Marine,” said Kar. “Abraham’s greatest joy was being a Marine and being a man who loved his family.
That is his legacy.”
It was at his first duty station in North Carolina when Tarwoe happened upon an old gridiron foe, now a fellow Marine: Wiles, who was a supply administration clerk on Camp Lejuene. The two were now no longer rivals, but brothers in arms, dedicated to serving their country. Wiles and Tarwoe developed a close relationship centered on shared backgrounds and interests.
“We were both dedicated family men, first and foremost,” Wiles said. “We just grew closer together because neither of us had family in North Carolina; it was just me and my wife and he and his wife and son.”
“Abraham loved the Marine Corps,” said Wiles. “He absolutely loved it. We planned on re-enlisting together and hopefully taking our families to Okinawa. He wanted to be a Marine forever.”
The first thing Tarwoe did upon deploying to Afghanistan was call his friend Wiles, who had deployed with his unit several months prior to Tarwoe’s arrival. They never met up in the combat zone, being stationed at different forward operating bases, but they were able to email and talk on the phone and over Internet video chat. Wiles was back in North Carolina when he found out Tarwoe had died.
“When I got the call, I hung up out of shock,” Wiles said. “I was convinced they’d made a mistake. My wife tells me every day that she can’t believe he’s gone.”
Friends and family members of fallen service members sometimes struggle to define their emotions towards the “ultimate sacrifice,” where someone they love is killed-in-action fighting for his country. Tarwoe’s friends and family don’t have that problem.
“I am a United States citizen; I understand what we stand for as Americans; we stand for peace and that all men should have equal rights. So, I don’t feel bad, I feel honored,” said Kar.
“His service has brought great honor to our family. I know he died for the right cause. I know he knew it, and I know he is in a better place.”
Tarwoe leaves behind many friends and loved ones, including his wife, Juah, and 18-month old son, A.J., of Providence, R.I., his parents, Abraham and Famata Kar, of Flehla, Bong County, Liberia, and hundreds of other family members.
“Initially, Abraham and I joined the U.S. Marine Corps to serve a nation that had given us so much,” Wiles said. “I hope that the Marine Corps will grant me another enlistment in order for me to carry on Abraham’s legacy.”
Though he may be gone, those who know him can rest easy, knowing that Abraham finally made it home.
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