THE BLOG

Semper Fi

04/11/2014 05:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2014

2014-04-01-image.jpgLike most military children, Marc Tace knew how to wait. He knew how to wait for his Marine Corps dad's next job, his next homecoming and the next deployment.

But unlike most military children, Marc waited without moving. Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy at the age of 4, Marc was wheelchair-bound by the time he and I were in elementary school.

Marc's mom, Mrs. Tace, was always nearby to help her son. I looked forward to seeing her in the school hallway, where she'd sing silly songs and embarrass her son. One time, she let Marc and me skip school, and she took us to get doughnuts down the street.

Later, Marc and I went to the same high school and college. When both our dads were away on military assignments, our families spent Easters and Thanksgivings together.

Over time, Marc's wheelchair got bigger and more complex. There were more machines -- more contraptions keeping him still, keeping him waiting.

Then I got married, moved away and had children. In some ways, I had left behind my military childhood. I no longer knew when my dad was out on detachment or home with Mom.

But each time I went home and saw Marc, I was reminded how faithfully he stood watch, the world coming to him as he waited for his dad's homecomings.

In 1994, however, Col. Tace died of a massive heart attack while serving overseas, and he never came home. Everyone worried about Marc and his mom. No one anticipated the way Marc would rise to the occasion and become the father figure for his family. No one anticipated the way the Marines would take care of their own and embrace Marc and his family.

More than 10 years after Col. Tace's death, it was that same strength and support that cradled Mrs. Tace when she laid Marc to rest next to his dad. With an American flag in one hand and the Marine Corps flag in the other, Mrs. Tace kissed her son's coffin and told him, "Don't be afraid. I'm here with you."

Just then, a military jet screeched overhead, rustling the flaps of the tent we all stood under, and I smiled as I thought, "Leave it to a Marine to arrange a fly-by for his son's funeral."

Muscular dystrophy had finally taken Marc Tace's life. Yet, in some ways, death also freed Marc. Because the morning Mrs. Tace found her son lying still in his bed wasn't any ordinary day. No, the day Marc slipped from this life to the next, to find what he'd been waiting for, was Father's Day.

And so it was, on the day set aside for fathers and their children, Marc went home to be with his dad, where this time the Marine stood waiting for his son. Semper Fi.

Photo: Marc with the author, Sarah Smiley, and her husband Dustin at their wedding in 1999.