David Griffith is, in many ways, living out the legacy of his older brother.
Maj. Samuel Mark Griffith, a reservist with the U.S. Marine Corps, was killed in combat in Afghanistan Dec. 14, 2011. He was 36 years old, married and the father of two.
David Griffith, a 19-year-old Holly Springs native, has made decisions that mirror his brother’s. Griffith is returning in the fall to Penn State, Sam’s alma mater, with a full scholarship.
He also wants to become a Marine.
And on Monday, May 30, David Griffith will honor his older brother and other fallen service members at a memorial he built in his brother’s memory in Holly Springs.
“My brother is honestly the reason I do half the stuff I do,” said David Griffith, who was 15 when his brother died. “He was the one who pushed me to go the extra mile. ‘The extra mile is never crowded.’ That’s what he used to tell me.”
The Memorial Day Celebration of Life Service will be at 10 a.m. at the War on Terror Memorial.
Sam Griffith, who served with the 4th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO), a unit based in West Palm Beach, Fla, was shot while drawing fire away from his fellow soldiers. It was his third tour to the Middle East but his first to Afghanistan.
He was married to Cassandra Griffith, and they had two sons, Chad and Noah, now 12 and 10.
“He went out protecting his men,” David said. “In his death and everything he was to me – the hero he was to me, the role model he was to me, the big brother he was to me – he really was the inspiration for me to join the military.”
Becoming a Marine
David Griffith began his freshman year at Penn State last fall, but he hoped he would earn a scholarship so he could continue his education. However, he had to return home after he was unable to obtain one.
But that didn’t stop him from trying again.
He reapplied and continued to improve his physical fitness. He cranked out 150 crunches in two minutes, 22 pull-ups and a 21-minute 3-mile run on his physical fitness test before finally earning a four-year National Marine ROTC scholarship for $180,000.
He sees his return to Penn State as his second chance at fulfilling his dreams.
“The way I see it, I’m going to be a Marine officer if it’s the last thing I do,” he said. “When I see myself in a uniform, I don’t see myself in an Army uniform or a Navy uniform or an Air Force uniform. I see myself wearing dress blues.”
Sam wasn’t just my big brother. He was a lot of people’s big brother.
A brother’s love
While David is following a similar path as his brother, the two are very different.
Sam joined the Marines to become a pilot and possibly an engineer with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said William “Sam” Griffith, Sam and David’s father.
“His initial dreams were to go to the moon,” he said.
But David is set on making a difference in a different way while gaining business, military and political experience along the way, William Griffith said.
“I think he wants to prepare himself for wanting to be president or wanting to put himself in a position where he really can help our country,” he said.
And at 5-foot-4, David has never let his height hold him back.
“He is just going to have to accept the fact that he’s going to be the smallest guy, and because of that, it’s helped him in other ways,” William Griffith said. “He is very driven. If he wants to do something, he’s probably going to get it done.”
David Griffith said he picked up this trait from his brother, too. He saw him achieve everything he set his mind to, including becoming a pilot.
David Griffith believes he can do the same. His brother believed in him, too.
“I’ll never forget the day I was 6 years old, and I looked at my brother and said, ‘I’m going to be president one day,’ ” he said. “He looked at me with his infamous smile and said, ‘I know.’ ”
War on Terror Memorial
David Griffith was inspired by his brother’s sacrifice to build the War on Terror Memorial in Holly Springs’ Veterans Park for his Eagle Scout project.
“When he passed away, that’s all I could think about,” David said. “That’s all that was in my head was, what am I going to do to help the military and leave a lasting impression for my Eagle Scout project?”
David Griffith started working on the memorial for his project in 2013 but has since made additions to the site, including a monument.
A granite pillar now rises from the center of a pentagon-shaped patio of brick pavers, surrounded by flags from every branch of the military. Wreckage from the World Trade Center is perched atop the pillar, which is inscribed with descriptions about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a photo of Sam.
It was dedicated on June 14, 2014 – Sam’s 39th birthday.
Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears met David Griffith when he was an energetic 16 year old with ambitious plans for the memorial. Nearly four years later, Sears said he has enjoyed seeing the young man – and his memorial – grow.
“I think it’s above and beyond the call of duty,” he said. “I’ve been involved in probably 40 to 50 Eagle Scout courts of honor. Many of them have been very, very good, but nothing compares to this.”
David Griffith continues to make improvements to the memorial. He and his father are adding a second sidewalk to the site. They also are considering constructing a seating area next to the memorial that resembles a Greek theater or auditorium for events.
“I think that it’s therapy for all of us,” William Griffith said. “I think it’s actually soothing to go out and sit there and to look at it and maybe dream a little bit about what else we can do, how we can make it a little bit nicer.”
David Griffith, sitting in the Veterans Park wearing a dark green shirt with the letters of the United States Marine Corps, lovingly describes his brother’s influence.
“Sam wasn’t just my big brother. He was a lot of people’s big brother,” he said. “Everything he did was for others. In the long run, he gave his life for his entire country, which is probably one of the greatest things you could do for somebody else.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon
Memorial Day Celebration of Life Service
The service is at 10 a.m., Monday, May 30, at the D.G. War on Terror Memorial, 600 Bikram Drive, Holly Springs.