Photo: DVIDS/Sgt. Jacob Harrer
There are moments in our lives that can break us, or make us.This is all too true for Kenyan immigrant Douglas O. Ongiyo.
He was 15 years old and travelling with his father when tribal militants shot down their plane over the Somalian desert, according to his story shared on the Marine Corps blog:
He went unconscious and awoke to a firefight between his father and 15 militants.
The pilot died in the crash.
Bullets whizzed overhead during the gunfight, and AK-47s rattled off rounds. Before he blacked out, Ongiyo saw Humvees arrive.
The next thing he knew, he was waking up on a ship. And the first thing he saw was a camouflage uniform, along with a name tag bearing the words “U.S. Marines”. He’d been rescued.
But the second thing he saw was a body bag.
Ongiyo’s father had been a Kenyan Army defence attaché, a military expert attached to a diplomatic position. He often accompanied his dad travelling around the world. That fateful day, it was Somalian fighters known as the Janjaweed who attacked their plane with an anti-aircraft gun, sending them crashing into a ground ambush. His father didn’t survive.
Led by an unknown Marine to the remains of his father, Ongiyo initially thought his dad was asleep.
“I was in shock,” Ongiyo explained. “The worst thing was thinking I had to explain it to my mum. I wasn’t supposed to be there. She didn’t know.”
But being on that ship had an impact on Ongiyo for which he’s grateful.
He recalls that over the next few days, the Marines took care his father’s burial preparations — dressing him in his full Kenyan Army dress uniform, and arranging for them to fly home for the funeral.
“To show that kind of respect for him was a life altering event. I stopped being superficial,” he said.
Photo: DVIDS/Sgt. Jacob Harrer
Ongiyo grew up wanting to pay back the U.S. Marines who saved his life and honored his father. So after moving to the United States during his college years, he enlisted in the Corps.
A cerebral, intelligent kid — he spoke nine languages: English, Swahili, Russian, Arabic, German, Luo, Creole, Kikuyu, and Luhya.
He could have pursued a successful civilian career after graduating from Western Michigan University with a degree in aeronautical engineering. But he was determined to enlist, and is now stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, with Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division.
“I got a sense of pride. I felt a sense of accomplishment. I was serving a greater purpose,” he said. “I feel like I owe the Marine Corps my life, and I’m just trying to pay them back.”
He says his older brother is a major in the Kenyan Army, and his older sister is a captain in the British Royal Marines, so the family has a proud “legacy of military service” since their father was killed.
Today, 27-year old Lance Corporal Ongiyo serves as a financial management resource analyst and is known for “a wealth of knowledge and experience” that impresses his comrades.
Most of all though, he carries with him a “deep-rooted appreciation for the opportunity to serve a higher purpose” as he lives out his calling.
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