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Alex Saldivar, a 14-year-old Bridgeport, Calif., native suffering from autism, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactive disorder, is inducted into the Marine Corps team by Col. Norman J. Cooling, the commanding officer of the Mountain Warfare Training Center, during Bridgeport's 147th Independence Day parade. The Marines of MWTC granted Alex his life-long wish of standing side-by-side with the few and the proud at the parade.

Photo by Lance Cpl. M. C. Nerl

MWTC Marines make a dream come true

10 Jul 2009 | Jennie Haskamp, Public Affairs Officer

For as long as anyone who knows him can remember, Alex Saldivar has been fascinated by the Marine Corps.  The slight framed 14-year-old who grew up in Bridgeport, Calif., watching Marines come and go is Autistic and suffers from Bipolar Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder—a combination of disabilities which mean his dream was destined to remain just beyond his grasp.

That changed July 4 when Alex, wearing a crisp green uniform and waiving a Marine Corps flag, marched in the town’s Independence Day parade.

Marines at the Mountain Warfare Training Center first heard of Alexfrom Janelle Mills, a Bridgeport resident and family friend.  She introduced Alex to the command in an e-mail.

“We have a local boy who is 14. He is autistic and recently learned he has brain cancer,” she wrote. “All he has ever wanted to be is a Marine.  His dream right now is to walk in the 4th of July parade, in full Marine uniform and to carry the flag.”

Mills further explained how popular Alex is in the community and how much it meant to her to help fulfill his dream.

“I would do anything to help Alex achieve this dream,” her e-mail concluded.

When the command heard of Alex’s wish to join them in the parade they decided to take action.

“It was important to us because we were able to give a young man in a remote mountain town his wish to be a Marine,” said Sgt Maj. Douglas Power, the MWTC sergeant major and a Rifle, Colo., native.  “In a small town like this we realized it was up to us to make this dream a reality.”

Alex’s grandmother, Joan LaRue, a Bridgeport native, also reached out to the command with her grandson’s request. She said his interest in the Marine Corps began a long time ago though no one in the family or town knows why.

“Recently Alex had to be taken to University of California Davis to have a large tumor removed from his brain,” LaRue wrote in her e-mail. “He is recovering well, but his words, even before he was released from the hospital, were all about how he was brave like the Marine men and he wants to ‘show the Marines his scar.’”

His crisp, starched cover hid the scar as he walked along with Captain Matthew Green, the MWTC communications officer who escorted him in the parade.

“It was obvious everyone in the community knows Alex,” said Green, of Mammoth Lakes, Calif. “We walked along and people called his name as he smiled and waved.

Instead of his scar, a result of having a Pilocytic Astrocytoma tumor removed in June, it was his smile and his tenacity the Marines noticed.

“Having the opportunity to meet and speak with Alex and his family was inspirational to me,” said Col. Norman J. Cooling, the commanding officer of MWTC “He's been through a great deal. Everyone's life challenges pale in comparison to his. If he can consistently maintain a positive spirit and attitude, then we should be able to.”

“Being made a Marine has been his lifetime dream come true,’ said his mother, Jenny Saldivar.  “What the Marines did for him means more to him, and us, than you can ever imagine.”

For Cooling and his Marines, Alex’s dream day included presenting him with a certificate declaring him a member of the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center team.

“Alex's own service has been in providing all of us with an example of strength, perseverance and selflessness,” said Cooling, a Baytown, Texas native. “He is an example of our institutional Corps values and for that, it was important for us to grant his wish.”

Cooling said granting the request was more than making Alex’s dream a reality—it was an opportunity to bond with the whole community.

“I wanted the people of the local communities to recognize service means more to Marines than simply the warfighting portion of our business,” he said. “We are part of the community.”  

For Alex, who wore his new combat boots until his feet blistered and enjoys reading books about military history, this Independence Day was one for the record.

Watching him march in the parade with the Marines is something his family will not soon forget.

“The service and sacrifice the Marines give is such an amazing act of courage and love for our country,” said Jenny. “We pray for their safety every day and hope someday there will be no need to put such wonderful people's lives in danger. After everything the Marines do they took the time to think of one little boy from a small town in California. To us they will forever be known as Alex's Angels.”

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