While serving in Afghanistan, Marine Captain Jesse Melton III agreed to take the place of another soldier. While Jesse rode in the soldier’s Humvee, the enemy detonated a bomb. The bomb killed Marines and an interpreter on impact—and set Jesse’s uniform ablaze. He went into cardiac arrest while in transit to the field hospital and died soon after. But before deploying, he told his mother, Janice Chance, that he wanted to “go change the world…”. While still mourning his loss, she set out to do the same.
But let’s rewind.
|Marine Captain Jesse Melton III|
Janice was raised in low-income housing (with a half dozen siblings) by a single mother. While her mother had a high school education, she stressed the importance of college. And Janice was already swimming against the stream as a Black woman in the 1970s. During the tail end of segregation, she graduated with a degree in nursing.
Not long after graduation, she met and married a war veteran with whom she had two sons and one daughter. They were divorced after 11 years of marriage, leaving Janice alone to raise her three children – one of whom had special needs.
Janice stared at the television; and then, an epiphany. The TV evangelist delivered a sermon that changed her life. He asked, "do you want to know God in your heart and not just your head?".
She used to attend church. Now, she participates in church. She said, “church became a part of my DNA.” She looked to her church’s fellowship for kindness and support. They supplied her and her children with everything from clothing to driving lessons. One churchgoer even offered to be her accountant for free.
Despite the support, Janice promised herself not to count on the generosity of others. So she supplemented her income as a nurse by selling makeup. With God and grit, she had the pleasure of sending off all three children to college, including Jesse.
Countless army recruiters sought after Jesse. As you may know by now, Jesse joined the Marines and became captain. He often said, “I want my soldiers to follow me out of admiration, not an obligation.” And in that spirit, he served in another soldier’s place, until—
Now, Janice is the president and chaplain of the Gold Star Mothers Maryland Chapter, Inc. They are mothers whose children died while in military service, died as a result of that service, or are missing in action. Their mission is finding strength in the fellowship of other Gold Star Mothers (GSM) who strive to keep the memory of our sons and daughters alive by working to help veterans, those currently serving in the military, their families and our community. GSM often partners with other humanitarian organizations, such as the American Red Cross.
Janice has been volunteering with the Red Cross since 2010. But the legacy of her son especially influences her good works. She told me “Jesse died because he agreed to take another Marine’s place. Two days later, on September 11th, that Marine’s daughter was born. I know that that baby has her father because of my Jesse.”