Honoring the fallen, VFW in Ellicott City pays tribute to Marine

From left: Sgt. Jessica Villanueva, Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Talbot and Sgt. Justin Contreras, all of Marine Recruiting Substation Columbia, fold an American flag during a flag ceremony for Marine Lance Cpl. James R. Walden III, of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion. The ceremony was held March 9 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7472 in Ellicott City. (Photos by Nate Pesce)

An orange sun sank slowly on the horizon as an American flag was lowered to honor Marine Lance Cpl. James R. Walden III.

About 30 veterans and active-duty Marines stood at attention during a flag ceremony for Walden at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7472 in Ellicott City on March 9.

Walden, a member of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion at Fort Meade, 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.

Marine Sgt. Danielle Senko of the MCSB attended the 30-minute ceremony.

“I’m here to honor him,” she said. “I wasn’t able to make it to his funeral.”

The Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion salutes the flag as it’s lowered to half mast during the flag ceremony for Marine Lance Corporal James R. Walden II.

Dressed in her service bravos, a uniform worn for parades and ceremonies, Senko knew exactly what Walden’s reaction to her outfit would be.

“He’d laugh at me for putting on [service bravos] on a Thursday after work,” she said. “He was hilarious, but at the right time. He was always looking for ways to improve. He talked about his aspirations in the Marine Corps and life in general.”

An American flag and Marine Corps flag were held at half-staff before being lowered and folded. The flags will be presented to Walden’s parents at a later date.

Albert Hernandez, service officer of VFW Post 7472, organized the flag ceremony with Steve Collins, Post 7472 commander. The America Legion also supported the ceremony.

“I didn’t know him, but I don’t need to know him,” Collins said of Walden. “He deserves this and so much more.”

Collins led a prayer as the flags waved at half-staff.

After the flags were lowered and folded, members of the the battalion recounted their memories of Walden.

“You might have heard this already,” said Sgt. Rocky Pollard. “Jimmie was a good guy who liked beer.

“He was a good friend. I’m going to miss him.”

Retired Marine Capt. Gordon MacPhee said he too didn’t know Walden, but came to the ceremony to “honor a young man who lost his life.”

“It always hurts; it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m honored to be here tonight to honor this young Marine.”

Lance Cpl. Richard Sommer spoke about the Friday night summer cookouts and Saturday evenings dedicated to “Dungeon and Dragons” with Walden.

“Jimmie was suppose to be at D&D the day [he died,] but it was a nice day and he wanted to ride his bike,” Sommer recalled.

MCSB Commander Lt. Col. Michael Challgren and Master Gunnery Sgt. John Tiffany, MCSB senior enlisted adviser, also attended the ceremony.

Challgren thanked VFW Post 7472 and the American Legion for honoring Walden with the ceremony.

Lt. Col. Michael Challgren of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion speaks about Lance Cpl. James R. Walden III during the flag ceremony.

“It’s been a tough week plus,” Challgren said to the group. “The silver lining has been the response from the fine young men and women [of this battalion] and the community.”

Nineteen Marines from the battalion attended Walden’s funeral in East Peoria, Ill., on March 4.

“We got to honor him and share stories of what we knew of him with his mother and father,” Challgren said.

The Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion will conduct a memorial service for Marine Lance Cpl. James R. Walden III at Fort Meade on March 22 at 1 p.m. at Argonne Hills Chapel Center.

The MCSB expects to present the VFW ceremony flags to Walden’s parents during the service.

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