Last year, 12-year-old Ethan Arbelo earned his Eagle, Globe, and Anchor when he was made an Honorary Marine, joining a group of fewer than 100 who have received that title. Last week, Ethan’s family said he had earned his angel’s wings.
Diagnosed with Anaplastic Astrocytoma Grade III, an aggressive brain cancer, in Feb. 2012, Ethan embarked on a mission to make the most of the time he had. His mom, Maria Maldonado Arbelo, herself a Marine veteran, created “Ethan’s Bucket List,” a tally of her son’s dream adventures. With donor support raised in online fundraisers and through various charitable organizations, Ethan swam with dolphins at Sea World, took a trip to Disney World, and made a cross-country road trip.
But one of the most memorable moments on the bucket list came Oct. 31, 2013 when Ethan visited the headquarters of 4th Marine Assault Amphibian Battalion in Tampa, Fla. to be made an honorary Marine. Presented by Lt. Gen. Robert Neller, the honor was not lost on the 12-year-old.
From The Tampa Tribune:
During a rest break Thursday at the Marine reserve center near the foot of the Gandy Bridge, Master Sgt. Will Price tried to coach Ethan through some Marine swagger.
“Repeat after me,” Price said. “Once a Marine … ”
The sergeant didn’t need to finish his instructions.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” Ethan fired back.
On July 3, Ethan’s loved ones posted tragic news to the Facebook page Ethan’s Journey.
“To all my military Brothers and Sisters, as you start your celebration tonight, lift a shot up in honor of our Fallen Brother, Eman… he passed at 1831 tonight, in my arms. He was the baddest m-fer in the land. Extraction date: July 3, 2014.”
Since then, hundreds of well-wishers have posted on the page, including friends and family and members of the Marine Corps community.
In the months preceding Ethan’s death, Maria Arbelo wrote that she had been overwhelmed by support during that difficult time.
“We have had such an outpouring of love and support from our military family…all across the globe, each phone call, text, email or comment wishing us a good fight and offering words of support,” she wrote. “Many have asked if we need anything and said we need only ask.”
In the wake of Ethan’s death, there’s still an opportunity to help the family: they’ve launched another online fundraiser to help cover funeral expenses.