Semper Fidelis: A Story of Family, Sacrifice and Love of Country

May we remain always faithful to God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our beloved country.

‘United States Marines’
‘United States Marines’ (photo: Curioso Photography / Shutterstock)

I was just a little girl when I found myself surrounded by red, white and blue decorations at my aunt’s house. I didn’t quite understand what all the tears and laughs were for, but I was told my older cousin had enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. In just a few days, at the ripe age of 18 years old, my cousin Mario would leave for boot camp. I stood there hugging everyone and taking in the joy and pride of my family members, knowing that our lives were about to change. 

Weeks later, my father brought me home from school in the San Francisco Bay area, and everyone in my house was weeping. All I could make out of the news that day was that some dangerous men had flown planes into important buildings in New York City and Washington, killing thousands. As a first grader, I didn’t really know what any of this meant — just that my cousin would be in danger. I couldn’t quite grasp the fear and anxiety that my family members had, but I could hear my grandmother praying that my cousin would come home at the end of this. “Of course he will come home — why wouldn’t he?” I thought to myself. Not knowing that, as a Marine, he would be on the frontlines. As my cousin was at Camp Pendleton, I can only imagine that he knew his life was never going to be the same. 

It was an extremely hot day in San Diego, California, when my grandfather took me to the store near base and bought me a camouflage outfit so I could match my cousin. We finally spotted him in a crowd of young men, all. We stood on our feet in awe as we saw him marching in formation.

It was a display like I had never witnessed before — a display of beauty, elegance, unity, strength, and pure love of country. It was at this exact moment I first knew patriotism, and I couldn’t have been more grateful to be an American. We were now proud family members of the newest United States Marine. What a magnificent feeling.

Shortly after this grand celebration, we found ourselves tying a yellow ribbon around our palm tree, wearing buttons with his photo on them, and praying every single day for his safe return. My grandmother was adamant about her daily Rosaries, novenas, and attending Mass. After our brief discussions, I quickly discovered I had something big to pray for. Those years of missing my cousin at Christmas gatherings, birthdays and special events may have seemed like a long time for me, but I’m sure it felt like an eternity for my aunt. I can only imagine it takes a special kind of mother to send her son to serve on behalf of the nation. How glorious it is to unite our suffering and sacrifices to Christ and the Blessed Mother. 

Years later, after a tour in Iraq and deployments to Japan, Korea, Thailand and Singapore, Corporal Rodriguez was finally coming home. When we speak, he often shares his stories — things he witnessed, things he heard, friends who didn’t make it home, and moments he will remember for the rest of his life. My cousin remains, to me, a hero and the biggest lover of life that I’ve ever met. 

When I think of Independence Day and what it means, I can’t help but think of that little girl I once was, clutching onto my Marine teddy bear, watching my cousin salute in formation with his new brothers. I think of his stern face, the way he stood tall, and the new Eagle, Globe and Anchor he had earned. I think of my grandmother’s eyes and watching them beam with pride and joy. I think of God and his endless mercy.

I remember other family members who fought in Korea and Vietnam. May we never forget the courageous sacrifices they made. I remember the veterans whose hands I’ve shaken, who've delicately held my hand in theirs, once using those same fingers to hold weapons in the battle for my freedom. I remember my mother’s stories about growing up in socialist Nicaragua and their continuous fight for justice. I so proudly remember our national anthem, the words tattooed over my heart: “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.”

When I reflect on the great American experience in 1776, I know that God, not the government, has given us dignity and an inalienable right to liberty. I envision the risks our Founding Fathers made with their trust in God Almighty. I reflect on how thankful to God I am to have been born into the freest, most powerful nation in civilization. We have truly won the lottery. 

While I am extremely blessed to live and work in the nation’s capital, not a day goes by that I don’t become overjoyed with emotion. Where else can the Hispanic daughter of a single parent make her dreams come true? The family who resides in the White House will change as years go on, but love of country and gratitude for the men and women who have served her will always prevail.

May we take the Marine Corps motto, “Semper Fidelis,” to heart. 

May we remain always faithful to God, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our beloved country.

May God bless you this Independence Day, and may God Bless America.

Christina Herrera and Mario Rodriguez
Pvt. Mario Rodriguez holds his young cousin Christina Herrera at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in 2001.(Photo: Gabriel Herrera)