Charles Palmer had a strong sense of duty and purpose.
He also had a kindness streak a mile wide.
Those three traits that Palmer — the only Manteca soldier to die in the War on Terror — cherished live on today through 20 plus annual box packing events for American troops in harm’s way and the countless volunteers who not just fill the boxes but also donate the items to fill them.
Nearly 24,000 boxes have been sent to soldiers since June of 2008 in an effort that started over a year after the Marine corporal lost his life to an improvised explosive device during the war in Iraq.
His parents — Charles and Teri Palmer — sent the first 9 packages in July of 2008 spurred on by the deployment of their son-in-law Caleb Copp, who was an Army 1st Class Sergeant at the time, to Iraq. By the year’s end, they had shipped 1,800 boxes and the effort christened as the Cpl. Charles O. Palmer II Memorial Troop Support Program was off and running.
More than 5,000
paid respects to
the fallen Marine
Most people in Manteca unfortunately became aware of Palmer only after his death while serving America. His midweek funeral procession in May of 2007 drew more than 5,000 people to line the streets of Manteca to pay their respect. Included were students at Manteca High where Palmer graduated in 1989 as well as the entire student body of Lincoln School clutching American flags. Lincoln — along with Sequoia and Shasta — was where Palmer attended elementary school.
Palmer moved to Manteca as an 8-year-old when his parents decided their daily commute to jobs at the Sharpe Army Depot in Lathrop from their home in Sacramento was getting to be too much of a strain. His younger brother — and best friend — Jason was 6 at the time. His sister Jeni had yet to be born.
“Manteca has 17,000 people back then,” his mother Teri recalled. “You could let your kids ride bicycles from one side of town to another it was that small.”
Palmer and his brother would place wooden ramps in front of their Sierra Street home to perform the timeless bicycle “stunts” of boyhood.
He was all boy but he was a boy with a big heart who went out of the way to be kind to others.
Palmer would gather with his buddies to walk home after the last school bell. But if he saw a girl walking alone he split away from his pals and make sure she had company as well as to make sure she got home safely.
His concern for — and desire to help others — manifested itself throughout his youth. In high school, he was thrilled to be able to volunteer to help two summers at Camp La Honda on the San Francisco Peninsula where camp was conducted for disabled youth.
“He loved doing that,” Teri recalled.
Growing up he thoroughly enjoyed fishing and the outdoors.
His dad Charles recalled that Palmer was a serious “fishing fanatic” who insisted on complete quiet when fishing. His brother, who easily caught fish using a hook on a string would throw rocks in the water when he was fishing.
Palmer loved fishing on Don Pedro Lake, along the San Joaquin River, on Lake Comanche, and along the Tuolumne River.
Camping also was a highlight growing up.
“We’d let the boys ride their bicycles all over campgrounds we stayed at as long as they were within earshot when I whistled,” Charles said. “I could whistle real loud.”
He worked for the
late Frank Guinta
at his gas station
Later on after high school Palmer got hooked on hunting after a stint in North Caroline. It was his dream one day to own a lodge where he could share the joy for the sport with others.
As a kid Palmer developed a love for long distant running. In high school he played on the defense line for the Buffalo football team, ran track and wrestled. He also played the coronet in the band and participated in band trips twice to Hawaii and once to the Rose Bowl where Manteca High performed.
Classmates over the years recalled how light-hearted Palmer was as he liked to put people at ease and help them when he could.
After walking across the stage at Guss Schmiedt Field in 1989, Palmer went to Delta College.
“He eventually decided college wasn’t for him,” Charles recalled.
He got a job working for the late Frank Guinta at his service station at Airport Way and Yosemite Avenue.
Then one day Palmer had a talk with his dad. He had no real direction and his job wouldn’t really allow him to support his young son, Dylan. They talked about options including the military.
Palmer decided the best way to support his son would to be in the military.
He was taken by the Marines advertising campaign at the time: “The few. The proud. The Marines.”
“Charles said that he liked the message,” his dad recalled.
From 1992 to 1996 he served in the Marines.
Serving America was a trait Palmer shared by his siblings. Jason served in the Navy and Jeni served in the Army.
Once he was discharged he opted to sign on for four years in the Marine reserve while starting work at a tool rental company. A customer convinced him to go into business with him through a powder coating firm.
The young man who loved his mother’s pinto beans and potatoes and shared a love for watching Oakland Raiders games with his father before he shifted loyalty to the Panthers after moving to North Carolina, was starting to get to listless and yearned for the direction, purpose, and comradery the Marines had provided.
He had a calling to
re-enlist at age 34
When he turned 34 Palmer called up his dad and told him he was thinking about re-enlisting in the Marines. Buddies that he had served with were now fighting for their country in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Palmer felt he belonged beside his buddies.
Time was also against him if he wanted to get back in uniform. The Marines would not take him back once he turned 35.
Charles told his son to think about it for three months before making a decision. Palmer did and decided it was absolutely what he wanted to do.
“(Charles) told me he felt that God was calling him to serve,” his mother said.
The options he had a calling to consider were to either become a police officer or rejoin the Marines.
“It was the happiest I’d seen him in years,” she said after he re-enlisted and was serving his country. “Once a Marine always a Marine . . . . He loved being a part of a band of brothers.”
Charles recalled talking to his son about how tough it would be as a 34-year-old tackling rigorous training especially the final challenge known as “the Crucible” — a 54-hour training exercise that validates the tough physical, mental, and moral training that Marines undertake. He was going to be 15 or 16 years older than most of the other recruits.
“He said it wouldn’t be a problem,” Charles said.
And it wasn’t.
He wasn’t doing it for the money. He was doing it to be a part of something bigger than him and to do something important with his life.
Charles recalled how his son’s platoon commander at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina told him his son would keep pressing him to be sent to Iraq so he could serve alongside his buddies. The commander told him each time that it wasn’t time for his rotation. Finally to get Palmer to stop pestering him, he had his orders cut.
On that fateful day on May 5, 2007 Palmer, then 36, volunteered to go on a combat mission in Anbar to replace the assigned gunner who had been injured. It was typical Palmer. His fellow Marines related how Palmer — upon hearing a fellow Marine up next in the rotation was due to become a father and leave Iraq soon — insisted that his comrade go to the back so he could take over point.
That was Palmer in a nutshell — unselfishly thinking about others.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org