1LT Tom Martin Memorial Foundation
When U.S. Army 1st Lt. Tom Martin called or emailed his mother from Iraq, he would almost always end with the same words.
"I gotta go rid the world of evil," 1st Lt. Martin said.
Few mothers could understand the risks her son faced like Candy Martin. When Tom deployed to Iraq in October 2006, she had just returned from the war-torn country.
"I got home in July 2006," U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Candy Martin (Ret.) told The Unknown Soldiers. "Even though I knew where he was going to be — I had been there — I truly believed he was going to be OK."
Tom's father, Ed, served in the Army until 1995. But even though Tom grew up in a military family, his mother said that the future warrior's motivation to serve came from within.
"We have pictures of him at Halloween dressed as a soldier, but I'm not sure his interest in the military came from us," Candy said. "He definitely had a mind of his own."
After his application to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was rejected in high school, Tom enlisted in the Army and refused to give up his dream of becoming an officer.
"He made very solid decisions," the soldier's mom said. "We saw a huge maturity."
Tom was eventually accepted to West Point and enrolled in the fall of 2001, just before America went to war. But even after 9/11 changed everything, Tom's outlook stayed the same.
"He had true conviction for what was right," Candy said.
"I was in the Green Zone and climbed the towers ... the statues where Saddam Hussein was holding the swords," Candy said. "He said, 'My mom did this ... I'm going to climb this.' He wasn't going to let his mother outdo him."
Adding to the unusual nature of Tom's first combat deployment was that his fiancee, U.S. Army Capt. Erika Noyes, was serving in the same area.
"I haven't gotten to see Erika very much since she's been here, but once in a while I miracle myself to her FOB (Forward Operating Base) for a short visit," Tom wrote in September 2007.
Instead of planning their wedding, the young couple was in the middle of a war.
About a month later, with Tom still in Iraq due to the troop surge that extended his deployment, Erika was working the operations desk when a Medevac flight was requested. As she would soon learn, her fiance had been hit with small arms fire.
"Tom had been pronounced KIA (killed in action)," Candy said. "She was in disbelief."
First Lt. Tom Martin died on Oct. 14, 2007, four days after his 27th birthday. Erika, whose own birthday was the next day, left Iraq amid the incomprehensible realization that their Oct. 12, 2008, wedding would never take place.
Candy, who has three surviving daughters and calls Erika her "fourth child," was also in disbelief when casualty assistance officers arrived on the doorstep of her family's San Antonio, Texas, home.
"It was the worst news possible, because he was just so close to coming home," she said.
Six years later, Tom's parents, sisters, fiancee, friends and fellow soldiers are keeping the fallen hero's memory alive.
Tom's loved ones also established the 1LT Tom Martin Memorial Foundation, which supports scholarships, church missions and Tom's former Boy Scout troop.
"He's still leading today," Candy Martin said about her son. "These stories can make a difference in people's lives."
Because of 1st Lt. Tom Martin's ultimate sacrifice and the courage of his loved ones, other young men and women are being inspired by the soldier's selfless deeds and powerful words: "I gotta go rid the world of evil."
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Tom Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of BROTHERS FOREVER: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice. Written with Col. Tom Manion (Ret.) and published by Da Capo Press, BROTHERS FOREVER will be released in May 2014. To find out more about Tom Sileo, or to read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website.