Ramon Aponte isn't going to lie about how he felt when he invaded Iraq with the Marine Corps.
"I was pretty scared," the Jersey City resident said Tuesday. "The Marines took Baghdad and they were moving on up. And we got the call into Northern Iraq. And it was just kind of scary...I didn't sleep at times. I must've had at least two hours of a sleep a day."
At a ceremony in City Hall in Jersey City Tuesday, Corporal Aponte was acknowledged for service to his country by the Mayor's Office as he received two certificates. The 23-year-old, who grew up in Downtown Jersey City, returned from service last month to settle down with his wife and seek work as an officer in the Jersey City Police Department.
With his young wife, his mother, stepfather, along with other relatives and family friends, Aponte, known to those close to him as Raymond, was introduced by Jaime Vazquez, the head of the city's Office of Veterans Affairs. Vazquez, himself a former Marine who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969, recounted how he found out about Aponte through Aponte's former baseball coach, and soon Vazquez and the young Marine had exchanged e-mails, sharing stories about their respective military experiences. Vazquez also spoke of the ceremony is a moment of appreciation to all those soldiers, especially from Vietnam, who had not been acknowledged for their service
Mayor Glenn Cunningham, who served stateside in the Marine Corps from 1961 through 1965, presented a citation and a certificate of honor to Aponte. Cunningham also spoke of the kinship that U.S. Marine soldiers share the world over, and how the Marine ethic and training follows a soldier for life.
"There are no ex-Marines regardless of the shapes of our stomachs or sags in our jaws," Cunningham said. "We are ready to go at any time because that training is always with us. I use it as a mayor every day."
Aponte, attired in his Marine uniform, which is referred to as "dress blue" in U.S. Marine vernacular, then stepped up to the podium at the front of the City Council Chambers to receive his certificates. Cunningham, before ending the ceremony, had also handed over to Cpl. Aponte an application for the Jersey City Police Department, the first part in what hopefully will be fulfilling a childhood dream.
Graduate of local schools
Aponte, who was born in New York City, moved with his mother and stepfather to Jersey City when he was 10 years old. A graduate of P.S. 37 on Erie Street, and of Hudson Catholic High School, he enlisted in the Marine Corps in September 1999 at the age of 19 after spending a year playing baseball in various youth leagues and clubs including the Jersey City Stars of Tomorrow.
The decision for him to join came from an uncle of his who was a former Marine who served in Vietnam as well as seeing images of Marines in the movies, citing the Clint Eastwood film 'Heartbreak Ridge' as an influence. Through the Marines Delayed Entry Program, whereby the Marine Corps prepared him for what to expect before he went to boot camp, Aponte was able to be on a level with his fellow enlistees who were already a year of ahead of him.
Aponte was immediately promoted to squad leader, with 45 men under his command. From there, it was Private First Class. Then he moved up to Lance Corporal and finally Corporal, which is the rank that he leaves the Marine Corps with. He received training at Paris Island in South Carolina, was stationed his first two years in London near the U.S. Embassy as a security guard, then joined the Second Light Reconnaissance Unit at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina before being deployed to Iraq.
During his two months in Iraq, he was stationed in Mosul in the northern part of the country where he secured an airbase and engaged in other security details. He also served during his time in the Marines on the SS Iwo Jima, deployed to Liberia.
Aponte, whose active service ended officially on Wednesday, is on inactive reserve for four more years, which means if reserve forces are needed for action, then he could be called back.
Twenty-year-old Elizabeth Aponte, also of Jersey City, who has been married to her husband for a year and a half, admitted that while she stood by him as a Marine, she found it difficult to be a Marine soldier's wife, with him away from home for long stretches of time. Particularly we went to Iraq.
"I didn't watch the news. I only asked people about it, because I didn't want to upset myself. It was tough. I thought I was going to lose him," said Elizabeth Aponte, who also showed her pride in him, as she knew that he was going to receive the award. "I knew this was going to happen. He's a great guy and he had every right."
His mother, Yolanda Anzueta, worried for him while he was in Iraq, but she also taught her kids that she supported them in anything positive, and especially being a police officer.
Aponte in fact credited his family and friends for keeping him alive with their constant letters and e-mails, and was elated to be honored by his city.
But he felt he didn't deserve the award alone.
"It feels pretty good," he said. "In my eyes, I shouldn't be the lone person for this award. My fellow Marines should be present as well. I appreciate what Mayor Cunningham has done as well as everybody here today. I don't stand alone. I stand with my fellow Marines, and they should be awarded as well."
Aponte currently resides in the Hamilton Park area of Jersey City with his wife and stepfather. He will be taking classes at John Jay College in New York City in spring, 2004.