Taking care of their own: Mother, son from iconic photo benefit from scholarship foundation
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Taking care of their own: Mother, son from iconic photo benefit from scholarship foundation
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At the funeral of Marine Staff Sgt. Marc Golczynski, who was killed by enemy fire in Iraq in 2007, 8-year- old Christian Golczynski stood to receive the flag from the Marine, that moments before was draped over his father's coffin. As he held back his tears, a click of a camera caught the raw emotion that gave the war in Iraq a face in a photo that quickly went viral around the world.

Surrounding the time of her husband's death, Heather Golczynski's thoughts ran through her head about what would be next for her and her son.

After the funeral, Heather and Christian moved to Maryland where she had help from Family, friends, and Marines who served with her husband in raising her son. Christian played as the goalie for his lacrosse team during high school, and now Christian a junior at the University of Alabama where he is studying management information systems with a minor in computing technology and applications.

Years later Heather stated the photo, that continues to circulate today, at the time put an overwhelming pressure on them.

"After it went viral, that plunged our family into the spotlight, and a lot of that at first was kind of overwhelming," Heather recalled. "We weren't sure what to do with that. But then when we kind of got to talking you know people reached out to us that we didn't know, to help us and I mean they helped us before we knew we even needed help."

However, Heather explained how the photo gave them the opportunity for them to reach out and pass along her husband's legacy and just as much as people reached out to help them, they continue to look out for Gold Star and wounded warrior Families.

"The best way to keep Marc's legacy alive was to give back, so they might relate Christian to the picture, but it also now is related to our way of giving back," she said.

Throughout the years, Heather and Christian have worked to serve families by mainly doing their own projects.

"I didn't want anything attached to it, I just wanted it to be me to you and that's it," she explained.

"Specifically, around Christmas time (we) adopt other Gold Star Families, other wounded Families, and we send presents to the kids so that they know that they are not left behind. The holidays were always really hard for us, so we try to make those holidays a little bit easier on somebody else and it always great when you get presents that you didn't even know about."

By serving other Gold Star Families they continued the legacy of Marines taking care of their own and continuing her husband's legacy.

"It is a way to keep Marc's legacy alive, but it also grows our circle," Heather said. "When Marc was first killed, Christian felt like he was the only one in the entire world (who) had ever lost a parent in the military, so it was very important to me to get him to know other people so that he knew that he wasn't the only one."

As they continued to serve other military Families, and Christian was starting to end his high school career, Heather began to worry again. This time about how she would get Christian through college.

"Christian set his sights on the University of Alabama, and all I could think was out-of-state tuition," she said. "How am I going to (pay) that?

"I am a single mom, I am one-income household, and that was tough, I didn't know how I (was) going to make this work. Am I going to have to tell my kid, 'no you can't go there.' That's where his sights are set and how am I going to tell him no? At the same time, I didn't want him walking out of college with debt up to his eyeballs that he couldn't pay back."

However, she was not going to be alone in fulfilling his dream. Before Christian was out of high school, the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation reached out to them.

"I will tell you that it is tough a lot of the time when there is so much paperwork and so much going on and you are not aware at the beginning of all the different resources and stuff that will actually step in and help you out," she said. "So, it was nice to have them reach out to us."

"Christian and Heather are an inspiring example of the thousands of Marine families the Scholarship Foundation supports every year," said Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation Director of Communications Dana Umbach. "Their story drives home the importance of our mission to honor Marines by educating their children."{/span}{/span}

Christian received his third scholarship alongside other recipients at the announcement ceremony and shared his story alongside his mother at the Marine Barracks Aug. 1.

It was important to Heather and her husband that Christian had a college education. She is proud of the person he has become because of his college career.

"There is power in education. Christian's scholarship from the Marine Corp Scholarship Foundation made his dream of attending Bama a reality," she said. "He found a second home on campus and it is not just surviving there, he is actually succeeding and thriving there."

"With the help of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, I can continue to pursue that goal," Christian said to the audience during the ceremony. "Not only has (the foundation's) support lifted some of the financial burden from my mom, but in two years I will have earned my bachelor's degree and have no student debt to repay. In today's world, that is a major blessing by itself."

Heather is grateful not only for the foundation, and the community the Marine Corps has given her and Christian.

"The Marines do indeed take care of their own," explained Heather, "and I didn't understand what it meant to be in the Marine Corp Family until after Marc was killed."

Pentagram Staff Writer Abigail Kelly can be reached at akelly@ dcmilitary.com