MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
The violence in Iraq was reaching its pinnacle in April 2004 as Marines bloodied their way through the first Battle of Fallujah. Sectarian clashes divided the nation as Marines with 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment worked desperately to curtail the insurgency.
Lt. Col. Babu Kaza, who was a first lieutenant at the time, was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune serving as a prosecutor in the base’s legal office. According to Kaza, it was a high-volume trial office and the hardest he has ever worked in his career.
With the ongoing war in Iraq, Camp Lejeune was the heartbeat of the Corps with Marine units constantly training in preparation for deployments to the Middle East. Kaza, like most Marines, hoped he would soon be on the front lines of combat. However, Kaza’s wife Tabitha was pregnant so he knew it would be some time before he found his way there.
Every day, Kaza read newspapers and watched nightly news broadcasts for any updates on the war in Iraq. It was a habit that carried over from the previous year when he was at The Basic School, the initial training school where all Marine Corps officers are taught.
“The war started in 2003,” said Kaza. “While in officer training, we would turn on the television and watch the war as it progressed. The concern for us as second lieutenants was the war was going to be over before we had the opportunity to be part of it.”
Despite the concerns, the war in Iraq intensified from 2003 to 2004. Insurgency grew throughout the country and the Marine Corps was ordered to support offensive operations in Anbar Province.
Kaza watched from Camp Lejeune as I Marine Expeditionary Force began Operation Vigilant Resolve in early April. Although Kaza always had an intellectual inquiry about combat, he was particularly interested in the Battle of Fallujah because one of his best friends, 1st Lt. Joshua Palmer, was on the ground fighting there.
Palmer had been one of Kaza’s roommates at The Basic School. For more than six months they lived together, worked together, and grew to be great friends. According to Kaza, the friendship grew easily because the two shared many similarities such as they had both been prior enlisted Marines in the Marine Corps Reserves and they shared the same moral value system.
“He was brilliant and innovative,” said Kaza. “He was an outside the box thinker who was always making tactical decisions in training based on doing the right thing, what made sense, and what was best for Marines. As you might imagine, he graduated as one of the top ten Marines in the class.”
“Kids would come up and approach us and were happy to see us as Americans. I credit that to the sacrifice and heroism of Palmer and Marines like him that gave that city a chance at democracy.” U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Babu Kaza, father to Pvt. Joshua Kaza
In mid-April 2004, Kaza was in his office exchanging emails with another Marine who he was roommates with asking “Can you believe Palmer is in Iraq leading Marines in combat now? The email he got in return was gut-wrenching—it stated Palmer had died on April 8th, a few days earlier from hostile fire.
“It was devastating,” said Kaza. “I sat starring at my computer in silence. I thought there is no way this could be true.”
Kaza said he went home that night and told his wife, which he admits was pretty emotional.
“For me personally, I hadn’t had anyone close to me die, so there was that aspect of me having someone I know and am close with be killed,” said Kaza. “What was going through my head at the time was accepting the reality of dying in combat operations. I think as Marines we all understand that theoretically, but to have it be visceral and real in that respect, is something entirely different.”
In January 2004, Babu’s wife Tabitha learned she was pregnant. It was a renewed joy for the family, who only months earlier was dealing with the loss of a miscarriage.
In April, when Palmer passed away, the Kaza’s knew they were having a boy. Together, they decided to name their son Joshua in honor of Palmer.
“Joshua in the Old Testament was a warrior, a fighter,” said Kaza. “It was a fitting name and fitting tribute to honor Palmer.”
Six months after Joshua was born, Kaza deployed to Anbar Province. Working with Civil Affairs, Kaza ended up in Fallujah and drove around the city seeing the leftover devastation from the previous campaigns. But according to Kaza, he also saw how the heroism and sacrifice of Marines there had pacified the city.
“Kids would come up and approach us and were happy to see us as Americans,’ said Kaza. “I credit that to the sacrifice and heroism of Palmer and Marines like him that gave that city a chance at democracy.”
When Kaza returned from Iraq, Joshua had changed. What was once a peaceful baby had become a “death defying daredevil who was hell on wheels going 100 miles an hour at all times.”
“The significance of him receiving his Eagle, Globe and Anchor on the day of Palmer’s death, who he was named after, is proof that my son is where he is meant to be. Every decision he has ever made in his life has brought him here to this moment, to this day, to this exact time. It is not a coincidence. It is meant to be this way for him to carry on that legacy and to carry on that namesake.” U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Babu Kaza, father to Pvt. Joshua Kaza
From an early age, Joshua said he wanted to be a Marine. He grew up athletic and was physically tough, attributes Kaza believed aligned well with military service. When Joshua got to high school, Kaza said he went through a rebellious phase telling his dad he was going to college or joining the Army or Air Force.
“I think it was his way of being difficult,” said Kaza. “And then one day it just clicked. He came to me and said can you take me to a recruiter? I do want to join the Marines and be in the infantry like I always said I wanted to be.”
As a father, Kaza said he was overjoyed.
Earning the Title Marine
The recruiting process was faster than Kaza expected and soon Joshua was on his way to Parris Island.
After Joshua left for recruit training, Kaza realized something unexpectedly. If Joshua completed training without any failures or setbacks he would receive his Eagle, Globe and Anchor on April 8th—the anniversary of Palmer’s passing.
According to Kaza, the timing is providential.
Kaza believes that his son receiving his Eagle, Globe and Anchor on April 8th is a representation of him carrying on Palmer’s legacy and that Palmer will continue to live through his son within the Marine Corps.
“The significance of him receiving his Eagle, Globe and Anchor on the day of Palmer’s death, who he was named after, is proof that my son is where he is meant to be,” said Kaza. “Every decision he has ever made in his life has brought him here to this moment, to this day, to this exact time. It is not a coincidence. It is meant to be this way for him to carry on that legacy and to carry on that namesake.”