NEWPORT NEWS, Va. --
Few people receive the title of honorary Marine. Derrick Owen is one of them.
On Jan. 28, several military officials recognized the Newport News, Va., native for his commitment to the Corps while striving to accomplish his life-long goal – becoming a United States Marine.
On Jan. 10, the 18-year-old was diagnosed with a type of cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare malignant tumor. So rare that only a few hundred cases are reported annually, according to the National Institutes of Health.
When Derrick found out he had cancer he said his first thought wasn’t about his own life, it was about his future career as a Marine.
“I’m not your typical chemo patient and I’m not going to be,” he said.
Even while undergoing cancer treatments, Derrick is still focused on the goal he set when he was a young boy.
“He has wanted to be a Marine since he was four,” said Tammy Owen, Derrick’s mother. “He has lived it and breathed it since he saw the color guard for Toys for Tots.”
In seventh grade, Derrick pursued his dream of becoming a Marine by joining his high school’s Junior ROTC program.
Staff Sgt. Dwayne D. Campbell, a recruiter at Recruiting Substation Newport News, said Derrick was the motivator who was always first in line if something needed to be done.
“I never saw him as a quitter,” he added.
As soon as he turned 17, Derrick took a big step toward earning the Marine title by joining the delayed entry program. In fact, he was scheduled to leave for boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., in July 2010.
“I was hoping and praying he would join the military for a career,” said Patsy Diggs, Derrick’s grandmother. “[However,] there is somebody higher up and he has the last say.”
Shortly after his cancer diagnosis, Derrick was forced to put his Marine Corps aspirations on hold. This didn’t sit well with his recruiter, so Campbell submitted a request for his poolee to be named an honorary Marine.
“He earned it,” said Douglas C. Denney, Derrick’s step-father. “Hopefully he can go in and earn [the title Marine as well].”
Derrick said that being an honorary Marine is the highest award he has ever received and he is very proud of it.
“It was the greatest feeling I have felt for a long time,” he said.
However, Derrick also said being an honorary Marine isn’t enough, he wants the real thing.
“I don’t just want the title, I want everything that goes with it,” Derrick said. “I’ll do anything it takes to get into the Marine Corps.”