A sea of Marine fatigues filled the seats at Argonne Hills Chapel Center as service members gathered March 22 to pay tribute to the life and legacy of Lance Cpl. James R. Walden III.
Walden, a member of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion, was the victim of a hit-and-run on Feb. 24 in Gambrills. He was riding his motorcycle when a car crashed into him. He died as a result of the accident, according to published reports.
Photographs of Walden posing for selfies with friends and dressed in his uniform flashed on two screens at the front of the chapel as people found their seats.
Walden’s parents, Susan and James Walden II, traveled from Illinois to attend the hourlong ceremony.
Command Chaplain (Capt.) Thomas Webber began the service and led the convocation.
MCSB Commander Lt. Col. Michael Challgren thanked the audience for coming to honor and celebrate Walden’s life.
He opened with a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.”
“The world breaks every one, and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
“I don’t know how many of us feel strong today,” Challgren said. “That healing process is going to take time, but I thought that quote was especially appropriate because of the response that we have seen from our Marines, our fellow service members, our co-workers here at the agency and from the community.
“So many have come out, and it’s been incredible. It’s really been a source of strength for us.”
Challgren reflected on Walden’s character and the overwhelming response to his tragic death.
“Lance Corporal Walden was a United States Marine and he lived up to that title in every sense of the word,” Challgren said. “… Bottom line, he was the type of Marine every commander wants in his unit because he was a quality human being.”
After learning about his death, Marines from external companies across the country, Walden’s civilian colleagues and the Ellicott City’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7472 paid tribute to the young Marine.
“The response that we saw was absolutely awe-inspiring, and the reason I share that with you is because it’s indicative of who he was as a Marine and as a person,” Challgren said. “It was that quality of character that touched so many lives that generated that response.”
Maj. Anna Voyne of MCSB, commanding officer of Company B, which Walden’s company, read four short paragraphs: one addressing Walden’s parents, one to his civilian co-workers, one to his fellow Marines and one to Walden.
“Thank you for reminding us that while life is precious and priceless, it is also delicate and fleeting,” Voyne said of Walden. “Most of all, thank you for reminding us that life is about living and that we need to make it count —that we should barbecue on the weekends, that we should take advantage of good weather and that, despite what anyone may think of our singing abilities, we should do karaoke and sing out loud.
“Your memory is etched in our minds and hearts. Thank you for coming into our lives. We’ll see you on the high ground, Marine. Semper fi.”
Recalling one of his first interactions with Walden, Master Gunnery Sgt. John Tiffany, MCSB senior enlisted adviser, reflected on his conversation with Walden about why he chose to join the Marine Corps.
“He was a legacy,” Tiffany said. “He needed to make sergeant faster than his dad.”
Gunnery Sgt. Lloyd J. James Jr. spoke of Walden’s enthusiasm for motorcycles, love of video games and high-end fashion sense.
“Walking into his barracks room closet was like walking into a Men’s Wearhouse or a Joseph A. Bank,” he said. “Suits, ties, shoes — but don’t get it twisted. Who else but Jimmie could pose for a photo with [tobacco] dip in his mouth wearing a camouflage hunting outfit by day and wear a three-piece suit by night, like he was getting ready for a fashion show?”
James asked those in attendance to remember to live life the way Walden had.
“To say that Jimmie will be loved and missed tremendously is an understatement of fact,” he said. “I challenge every one of you to live and appreciate your life to your utmost potential. I truly believe Jimmie lived … every day like it was a party.”
The ceremony closed with a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Jay Barringer.
Celebrating Walden’s Life
Following the ceremony, a barbecue was held at the Freedom Barracks, where Walden lived.
“This is the good part of it,” Tiffany said to the Marines. “The laughing and smiling — I cannot tell you guys enough how proud I am of you: your bounce, your resiliency, your coming together.”
Guests enjoyed brisket, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and beans donated by Mission BBQ and homemade dishes brought by those in attendance.
“The last three weeks have made me proud to be a Marine,” James Walden II said to the Marines during the barbecue. “The outpour of support has been phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like this; it made me believe the brotherhood is still there. I just want to thank you, from me and his mother.”
Walden’s parents were presented with a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, which was awarded to Walden posthumously. Shadow boxes featuring Walden’s dress blue uniform, photograph and medals were given to them.
Tiffany spent the last three weeks crafting personalized footlockers to honor Walden. They held letters from Walden’s co-workers, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia. The footlocker was branded with the letter B, for Walden’s company.
“When we broke the news [of his death] to the entire company, one thing we talked about was how [we] had no choice, we had to deal with it,” Tiffany said. “It’s how we honor Jimmie. [The battalion] has really come together and are working through the grieving process. I couldn’t be prouder.
“This [barbecue] is part of the healing processes for the Marines. We had to do this to get closure for them.”
Five members of VFW Post 7472 attended the memorial ceremony as well as the barbecue. They presented Walden’s parents with two honorary memberships to VFW Post 7472, two certificates of honor, and the American and Marine Corps flags from a ceremony they conducted in Walden’s honor on March 9.
Walden’s roommate, Lance Cpl. Ryan Sisson, had the opportunity to talk and share memories with Walden’s parents.
“[Talking to them] showed me where Jimmie got his personality from,” Sisson said. “They reminded me of my parents.
“The fact of the matter is, I’ve seen everyone from everywhere have a positive story about him. One person can make such a difference. They can touch people far away with the stuff they do.”