On Memorial Day, Remembering A Fallen Marine

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Pfc. Donald Wayne Vincent was a member of the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Marine Regiment. The Gainesville, Fla., native was killed in Afghanistan. On this Memorial Day, a remembrance of the Marine from people who knew him the best.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And this Memorial Day, we're hearing about some of those killed in the past year in Afghanistan. Included are members of America's battalion, the second battalion of the 8th Marine regiment, which NPR has been following over the past year. One of those killed was Private First Class Donald Wayne Vincent of Gainesville, Florida. Reporter Kevin Allen talked to his family and friends.

KEVIN ALLEN: The living room in the Vincent house, in Gainesville, is filled with pictures and portraits of their son, almost all of them showing him in some sort of Marine uniform. Those who knew him say it was when he joined the corps that the 26-year-old they called Wayne began to blossom.

His best friend, Ian Walters, remembers when he saw Wayne between boot camp and his deployment to Afghanistan. The difference was striking.

Mr. IAN WALTERS: He was always very - kind of conscious about himself, but I guess one of my favorite stories, my favorite aspects about him when he came back, was how confident he was in himself. And then he went out, and we went to lunch one day and we were talking to this waitress, and he actually did one thing he never did before, and actually asked the waitress for her number, and she gave it to him. That was pretty impressive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ALLEN: Wayne's parents talk about how much more focused and mature their son became, and that pride has helped them deal with the loss. His father, Lee, a career Navy officer, recalled one of their last talks, which showed how much Wayne had grown. He told his father if the worst should happen, to use his life insurance money to set up a college fund for his nieces and nephews.

But even with that newfound poise, Wayne never lost perspective. That came through in the last communication his parents got from him.

Mr. LEE VINCENT: It was about three weeks after Wayne was buried that we got a letter from him, the last letter that he wrote. And it was like we wanted to hear from him, and here it was. And it was pure Wayne. It was lighthearted. He was punching jabs at us. He was punching...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VINCENT: He was just giving everybody a hard time, and that was just pure Wayne. It was like the good Lord said, OK, you've been through it. I want you to realize that Wayne still had a great sense of humor, and he's going to zing you one more time.

ALLEN: It's that sense of humor, his new direction, and his love of the outdoors family and friends talk about and remember the most.

This Memorial Day, his family will be along the Suwannee River in Florida, one of those places their son liked to go hunting and fishing.

For NPR News, I'm Kevin Allen in Gainesville, Florida.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: We'd like to hear from you, who you might be remembering this Memorial Day. You can share stories and pictures online. Just search for NPR MORNING EDITION on Facebook.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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