Almost everyone can remember where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001, the day of the worst attack on American soil in history which took over 3000 lives. The day almost immediately became known as 9/11 which remains ingrained in the minds of Americans everywhere. Blake Rodgers of Griffin, Georgia was ten years old (shown above) when he witnessed the giant planes crashing into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. He was so shocked that he cried. He also told his parents that he wanted to become a Marine, and he wanted to help fight against those who were involved in killing so many of his fellow Americans. His father is Chris Rodgers, his mother is Jane, and his younger sister is Emily. Blake has a connection to the city by the muddy river. Many people will remember Mary Nell Barlow who, along with her brother Gene were raised by their aunt and uncle, Julia and Reeves Gilbert. Still others will remember C. W. “Chuck” Barlow who was raised by William “Bud” Barlow and who recently passed away after a long illness. Perhaps not so well remembered would be their sister, Velma Barlow who was raised by her aunt and uncle, Estelle and G. W. Beeland in Griffin. The reason this family of children, all of whom are this writer’s first cousins, were raised by uncles and aunts was because their mother and father had separated and the father, Vance Barlow, (shown below right) at the age of 39 was later tragically killed in an electrical accident. The mother had disappeared. Three families who raised the children were aunts and uncles, children of William Right and Prezzie Wynne Barlow of Hartford, on the eastern side of the Ocmulgee River. The Barlow family—large, (shown below left) but no larger than many others in the turn of the Twentieth Century era—had twelve children of which ten survived to adulthood. Velma Barlow Pierceshown above with her husband Paul aregrandparents to Blake Rodgers. As a child, Blake enjoyed building—anything his youthful imagination could conjure up — houses, buildings, ships, and planes. Blake built them with his Lego set. As he grew older, Blake played baseball on several youth league teams. He enjoyed camping, hunting, fishing, paintball, airsoft, shooting and just hanging out with his friends. He was a highly accomplished artist. Blake was also an authority on aircraft, a passion he indulged through reading, building models, drawing aircraft, visiting airports and attending air shows. It wouldn’t have been difficult to imagine him as a fighter pilot or aeronautical engineer. On 9/11 all that changed! Blake, the 11-year-old, witnessed with horror and disbelief as airplanes were used as weapons to attack his people and his country. It was on that day Blake decided to be a Marine. Having made that decision, even at such an early age, Blake set out to make himself as knowledgeable about being a Marine as he had done with his beloved aircraft. He read, studied and played video game simulations in an attempt to glean information about weapons, strategy and tactics. He learned to shoot and became extremely proficient at it.
After graduation, Blake (shown here with sister, Emily and Mother) enlisted in the Marine Corps in July. In October 2008, he left home for the first time, en route to The Marine Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C., and Marine boot camp. Almost immediately, Blake began to excel, culminating with his selection as his recruit platoon’s distinguished high scoring marksman. As one might imagine, in a branch of the military service wherein all Marines are riflemen first and anything else secondarily, earning the Expert Rifleman Badge is an accomplishment truly worthy of praise. Blake wore his with pride. (Blake Rodgers achieved his goal of becoming a Marine)
His acknowledged marksmanship prowess notwithstanding, no one, no matter how fit, how smart or how gifted with a rifle, ever becomes a United States Marine without first having endured a 54 hour marathon of fatigue, sleep deprivation and limited rations designed to push recruits far beyond their personal limits of performance and thereby expose the true “don’t quit, never give up” attitude and Marine spirit within them. Coupled with the running, forced road marches with heavy packs, constant barrage of simulated attacks, field problem solving and team and leadership building exercises are put to the test. It is there, in those seemingly unending hours of hell on earth, that the recruit proves, not so much to the instructors, but much more importantly, to himself, that he is worthy of being a United States Marine. That vital self affirmation was memorialized in the small, desert camouflage New Testament that Blake carried during boot camp; where the quote, “I will never give up, never give in, take it as it comes and grow stronger,” was written in his hand, on its inside front cover. The meaning and the rewards that phrase portended were forever etched into Blake’s mind when, on a cold Saturday morning in January 2009, he heard from his drill instructor the words, “Congratulations, Marine.” At that moment in time, Christopher Blake Rodgers had achieved his goal, a goal he had harbored and single-mindedly pursued since that fateful day in 2001 — he had become a United States Marine. Upon graduating from boot camp on January 16, 2009, with the rank of private first class, Blake moved on to the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger, N.C. While there, he was recognized for his use of novel strategies and tactics in leading his assault team in overtaking a position held by members of the instructor cadre. Upon being overrun by Blake’s team, the surprised and dumbfounded instructors asked where he had learned those techniques. Blake’s reply was that he had devised them during his days of playing paintball and “Navy Squeals,” a takeoff on the movie “Navy SEALS,” with his cousins and friends. So impressed with his methods were the staff that Blake’s techniques are now taught to other
Marines as part of the curriculum there. (shown below left are some of the thousands who lined the highways to show their gratitude to the fallen Marine, and shown right are the Marine Pall Bearers)
Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher Blake Rodgers died doing what he loved, for those he loved, with those he loved as brothers at his side, in harm’s way, in a land far away. We can never and will never forget his sacrifice. Blake Rodgers was killed in action Wednesday September 1, 2010 in the Helmand Providence of Afghanistan, hardly a worthy place to claim the life of such a warrior. Helmand is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan.
(Below is the presentation of the United States Flag to Blake's Mother who is accompanied by his sister and father)
It is in the southwest of the country. Helmand is the world's largest opium-producing region, responsible for 42% of the world's total production. He was laid to rest Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010, a date chosen to commemorate that seminal moment in history wherein the course of our nation was forever changed in the blink of an eye, a date that so affected an eleven-year-old boy from Griffin, Ga., that he dedicated his young life to service and to righting that horrific wrong, a date that irrevocably altered his life, our lives and through his sacrifice, the lives of people he never knew.