When an Afghanistan War hero’s photo and Navy Cross citation plaque was removed from a memorial lounge his family helped fund, Marines sprang into action.
“I need some help brothers and I know I’ll probably take a lot of flak for this, but this is too important to me and others not to take a stand for,” a member of 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines wrote in a social media post that made the rounds this week.
The room at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina was designed in honor of Cpl. Michael Ouellette. The noncommissioned officer was leading his squad with 3/8 on a patrol in Afghanistan’s Now Zad district in 2009 when an improvised explosive device detonated beneath his feet.
His injuries were devastating, but Ouellette continued leading his Marines. Bleeding out, he treated his own wounds while directing his squad and coordinating requests for air support -- all while enemy fighters shot at them at point-blank range.
Only after his entire squad was ready to move out of the area did Ouellette allow for his own evacuation, succumbing to his wounds soon after.
That’s the legacy Marines with 3/8 were worried was being erased when they returned from a recent deployment to find that items from the memorial room dedicated to Ouellette had been moved.
“I want our history and our traditions saved,” the Marine wrote, calling on members of the battalion to contact their leaders.
Marines mobilized, with active-duty and veteran members of 3/8 sharing the post and urging action. Ouellette’s sister, Stephanie, was eventually tagged in one of the posts. Like the members of 3/8, she said she was shocked to learn about the changes.
“No one has contacted us, nobody has explained the situation, nobody has told us what they’re doing to correct the situation,” she said. “We know nothing, which is I think a shame.”
Stephanie Ouellette said her mother, who has since passed away, donated $20,000 to 3/8 after her brother’s death. It was a way for the family to help pay the unit back for all the love and support they’d been shown, she said.
“I want to be clear, the room was never supposed to be a memorial to my brother,” she told Military.com. “It really was supposed to be a tribute to the guys who served with my brother. … It was a place to give comfort to Marines.”
About $10,000 of the Ouellette family’s donation went to purchasing a pool table and other items in the memorial room, she said. The rest of the money went toward a Marine ball.
Seeing the outcry from members of the battalion concerned about preserving Ouellette’s memory meant a lot, Stephanie Ouellette said.
“I’m not an emotional person, but this makes me really emotional because my brother is not forgotten,” she said.
Once members of 3/8 began sharing their concerns with their command, leaders there have “taken the time to explain the purpose behind the changes taking place,” Capt. Kelton Cochran, a spokesman for 2nd Marine Division, said.
“The memorial is not being removed. It is being updated,” Cochran said. “Cpl. Ouellette’s citation, plaque, photo, and additional items in his memory will act as the centerpiece for this update.”
The point of the update, he added, is to celebrate the legacy of Ouellette and other 3/8 Marines, dating back to the battalion’s 1940 activation.
“Over the next few months the room will be updated to memorialize the battalion's commitment and sacrifice since it was activated on Nov. 1, 1940, to include operations in the Pacific during World War II, Lebanon, Liberia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti, Libya, and many other places,” Cochran said.
Lt. Col. Neil Berry, 3/8’s commanding officer, stressed that the battalion is committed to all Marines, sailors and families who’ve served there -- both past and present.
“It is the spirit of the Marines and Sailors that have gone before us that give us our strength to continue to fight and win our battles,” Berry said. “There are many who have served in this Battalion who have demonstrated this quality, but few have done it like Cpl. Michael W. Ouellette.”
The battalion expects to dedicate the updated space in the fall, Cochran said. The recreational items that were in the room before will be moved to Lima Company’s barracks, since that’s where Ouellette served, he added.
Ouellette, Berry said, represents the essence of what 3/8 holds dear.
“He is, and will remain, a Battalion hero with a permanent place of remembrance," he said.
Stephanie Ouellette said she just wanted to see the battalion’s leadership do the right thing by their Marines. To say she’s grateful for the Marines’ support over the last decade is an understatement, she said, and seeing them stand up in honor of her brother years after his death has been beyond moving.
“The way my mom always described it was that the Marines with 3/8 just put their arms around us and took care of us, from the moment we lost Mike all the way to today,” Stephanie Ouellette said. “They’re doing it again by making sure Mike is taken care of, his legacy is taken care of and we’re taken care of.
“I can’t say enough about how amazing that is,” she said.