Sgt. James R. Tijerina

Referred as: TJ by his military comrades & JR by his family

Character (verb) – One of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual. A feature used to separate distinguishable things into categories; also: a group or kind so separated (2) the detectable expression of the action of a gene or group of genes.

Reflecting on the definition of “character” listed above and numerous pictures, if ever there was an individual driven by his character my son James Rodney (JR) Tijerina truly demonstrated it. Known as JR to his family and friends in Katy, Texas, but referred as TJ by his military comrades, his unique character defined his life. You might say that he trained for the U.S. Marine Corps all his short-lived life. Driven by his curiosity and desire to meet nature and its inhabitants at eye-level even as a youngster, he did not turn away when the nature of danger beckon him as a teenager and as a young adult. Life to him was simply about choices, in particular making the right choices. He learned valuable life lessons from his older big sister and brother, lessons that ultimately shaped his unique personality. Armed with strong virtues and values, love for God and country, he entered the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after that horrid date of September 11, 2001. But before he left this world, he captured his thoughts and travels leaving behind journals, pictures and a laptop full of videos and pictures. He introduced us to his world with his final right choice leaving behind family, friends and lots of loving memories.

Early Pre-Teen Years

Looking back over his early childhood pictures I discovered signs of one of the many attributes that defined JR, his love of animals, nature and being outdoors. An early toddler picture captured the moment he discovered his first butterfly. In this picture, JR is stooped over trying to gently grab that butterfly. It did not work, but he kept trying, walking and stooping over and over. He spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to capture bugs, any bug as his curiosity grew with every discovery. As a young boy, his interest was toward the sky and its inhabitants. He learned to distinguish different birds and their calls. He liked listening to most birds, but hated the mockingbird’s call as he had the most annoying mockingbird outside his second floor bedroom window. We even found the mockingbird annoying, as did JR’s pet parrot that squawked loudly when annoyed by the mockingbird or by JR.

Having so much time due to his early wake-up call, he spent his summers and weekends exploring the things below the neighborhood streets and neighboring bayous looking for snapping turtles, but in particular, snakes.

It didn’t matter if he would run into the tall freeway dead end walls or if the water was rushing in the local bayou, he wouldn’t return home until he had his catch. It was all about money and what he could do with it that kept him hunting. You see, PETCO would purchase his snakes and pay him anywhere from $15 to $30, depending on the snake. He learned that the gopher snake paid him a whopping $30, and that was his #1 hunt. Encouraged by his snake sales, he spent his money on snake encyclopedias and that’s when snakes became his obsession. The more he learned about them and more snakes he hunted. He memorized snake encyclopedias and purchased several snake aquariums and kept them in his bedroom. Unbeknownst to me, JR hosted snake dinner shows at home and had plenty of friends willing to pay .50, to watch the snakes swallow live mice. Family life was never the same at home and family road trips had to include snake hunts and later in life, lizard hunts. He had to find every state bird, snake, and regional lizards. He viewed the family road trips as opportunities to hunt and explore the terrain. Doesn’t that sound like a U.S. Marine?

Formative Awakening Years – Teenage Son

By the time JR reached his the awkward teenage years, he eased up on the snake hunting and started to explore fun board games, cards and playing pranks on the family and his friends. He was a skilled board game player and especially loved to play UNO and Chess. Saturday and Sunday nights were reserved for either a round of UNO or a Chess competition with either his father or big brother, Peter. He was always competing with his older best friend, Danny Nichols, and big brother. This “competitive” nature of his led to cleverly planned pranks. He became an experienced prankster and JR’s snakes did help, a lot and often played a major role. The lanky teenager however, was growing up and that’s when he went on a mission to “pump up.”

Preparing for high school, he decided to gain weight, build muscles and play sports, like his big brother. He didn’t give up his love of snakes, iguanas or birds and in general all animals and chose to study them bringing instant relief to the family and neighborhood. JR announced that he wanted to follow his big brother’s footsteps and make the football and basketball teams.

But, he especially wanted to make the high school basketball team as he had a height advantage over his big brother and best friend. I still recall his morning protein shakes and muscle milk before his “pumping iron” sessions in the garage. He tried, but it was difficult to gain and keep weight. I blamed his genes and workout ethic. He worked off so much on the fields and courts, plus he really liked to run. So, it was hard to keep that weight. He did not make the basketball team, but that didn’t stop him from working off that anger on the backyard basketball court. Nevertheless, he was determined and never let the countless hours on the sidelines get his better self. He trained others to play better basketball, baseball and football. In Texas where football is big, JR played for Katy High School as a tight end and during his senior year, his football team won the State Championship. That was the most exciting football game to watch and I never saw JR literally jump so high.

Young Man – Young Adult

As a high school graduation gift, I sent JR to a place I thought he would enjoy, a natural playground for him, you might say, his domain, Yosemite National Park. I wanted his graduation gift to be memorable and that it was. His best friend, Ryan McCarry came along too. This was JR’s first encounter with natural beauty at its best. As anticipated, he fell in love with Yosemite and his countless pictures tell the story. He and Ryan spent a lot of time hiking, biking, and climbing. One particular picture stands out, one that Ryan took of JR sitting on top of Half Dome. After that climb, JR called me saying “I saw God’s face, mom.” It was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. The Yosemite experience was the most unforgettable experience he had ever had and it was the first time I heard his kinder spirit acknowledge God with reverence. Looking back now, I think God was preparing him for the numerous tragedies and hardships that followed.

Still grief stricken by the divorce of his father’s and I, the next tragedy that really pulled his heartstrings was September 11, 2001. This was followed shortly by the death of his best friend Ryan, killed in a single car accident in November 20, 2001 and lastly, his cousin, Joe Tijerina, killed in a random shooting. These events succumbed him to become a warrior. He gave up his dreams of becoming a forest ranger or a coach and succumbed to becoming a war warrior. He was serious about enlisting with one caveat; he had to be up in the air, flying. Always contemplating, weighing his choices and making decisive decisions, he was determined to select the military branch that would send him up in the air.

Young Adult – A Marine

As the impending war news hit the airwaves, he visited various military branches, but none of them could guarantee him that he would fly. The only military branch that could guarantee him that (dependent on passing some exams) was the U.S. Marine Corps. So, he enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps. He spent months training for boot camp and off he went to serve his country.

Determined and wholehearted he entered into the U.S. Marine Corps and loved being a part of it. He enjoyed boot camp and every aching bone and joint that came with the job. He spoke of the good time and friends he made, but was especially excited to hear his MOS assignment as crew chief. It was official, he was going to fly and that’s all that was important. Finally things unfolded as he planned. He would be flying armed with his faith in God and be among new friends whom shared common interests.

After serving his first tour in Iraq, JR was determined to move up the military ranks. He enjoyed military life and wanted to make it his career. Family and friends at home encouraged him otherwise, but no one could stop him or provide him good reasoning to leave the military. He felt that if he worked really hard to learn as much as he could, he could eventually fly an aircraft. That was his plan and he was really getting serious about his military and personal life and started to go out on dates. He met his future bride, Clowie and eventually married her prior to departing on his second and final tour just six weeks short from coming home to attend his sister’s wedding and his own formal wedding in late June.

He also reenlisted and was looking forward to his next duty station in Hawaii, his wife’s home state. He had numerous plans and was looking forward to moving on to the next stage of his life. Instead, his plans were abruptly interrupted when he and five other young men and one young woman pilot came together on February 7, 2007, the final fateful day.

Remaining are countless pictures and videos that JR’s laptop safely stored and arrived home to his wife. Looking at these last pictures and watching the videos of the young men at work and play in Iraq, I sense my son felt compelled to chronicle his life and tell us his journey, his story. So, his laptop will forever remain frozen in time with nameless faces and memories from just a few days prior to that dreadful day, February 7, 2007. Numerous questions and nameless faces remain unanswered, but not the character of the seven faithful servants onboard the Morphine 1-2.

JR’s last poem Faithful American clearly depicts the spirit and character of the Morphine 1-2 crewmembers, but also of those serving today. Though our seven faithful servants completed their final fight and flight mission, they remain flying high above. Their flight wings flying still as their eagle eyes watch over our current war warriors whose character is armed with our crewmembers’ strong virtues and values along with love for God and country. God bless our military personnel and God bless America and…

Seven Stars, let your eagle eyes fall on us, we miss you still.

FAITHFUL AMERICAN

I was born inside this country
That gives my dreams a chance to be
I respect all that it stands for
The comforting embrace it gives…to you and me

I will never take for granted,
I will gladly die for…

A nation that means freedom
I could ask for nothing more

America isn’t perfect
She’s had her problems in the past

But her intentions are for the better
He resolve will always last

Not everyone feels…the same exact way
Sometimes there are pessimists
With negative words to say

They don’t believe in America,
They’ve forgotten her history that has gotten us this far
Turning their back on faith, disregarding who they are

We must believe in this nation, we must trust its destiny
She is guided under God, she will never be held captive,
She will always be free

Author: J.R. Tijerina, USMC

We Will Never Forget Sgt. James R. Tijerina