PITTSBURG — A local veteran found a way to help families of fallen soldiers.
United States Marine Corps veterans sergeants Chris Endicott and Justin Baughman met years ago when they were stationed in North Carolina. Both had a tour in Iraq together.
“We became friends immediately, his mom and my wife and everybody say we are just alike,” Endicott said. “He was my best friend, we talked all of the time.”
Baughman died in March of this year, leaving behind a six-year-old daughter Paityn.
“My best friend passed away,” Endicott said. “Ever since I got out of the Marine Corps I’ve been at kind of a loss, not knowing how to give back, help my brothers out.”
The Marine Corps has a way of creating life-long relationships, Endicott said.
“For me it was a life-changing decision and it changed my life drastically, and I met some of my best friends,” he said. “I tell people all of the time, you might have best friends and friends in college, but you could never compare them to a Marine brother, the closeness is — if you don’t have it it’s hard to understand it.”
It’s hard to put into words, he said.
“You trained and lived with them,” Endicott said. “It brings a whole new meaning to brotherhood, when you get out [of the military] and you see each other [after so long] it’s like you haven’t been apart for two days, but you could have been apart for two years.
“And no matter what is going on in life you can always call on them and they are there. They are going to be there for you.”
Baughman dealt with many battles inside, Endicott said.
“He struggled with PTSD really bad and had a drinking problem, so it's been a rough one,” he said.
Since being medically discharged in 2011, Endicott wanted to help his “brothers” in some way, however, his friend’s death and feeling compelled to help his daughter brought an idea to mind.
Endicott began selling t-shirts, and part of the proceeds are going to Paityn at the end of June.
“After my best friend Justin passed away, it kind of just popped up and I found a way to give back,” Endicott said. “I just wanted to do some shirts for him so I can raise some money for his little daughter Paityn.”
The shirts say “Lifting for the Fallen.” Endicott said he is into crossfit and the shirts reflect something Baughman would approve.
“I was really struggling with losing Justin,” Endicott said. “I wanted to do things that would make him happy.
“I do crossfit and you have to push yourself a lot of times through those workouts and I started saying I was Lifting for the Fallen, honoring him.”
He used the saying as fuel.
“It just kind of took off from there,” he said.
As of Friday, they were able to raise almost $2,000 for Baughman’s daughter.
“This has helped me get through the grieving process because I feel like I can honor him and be there for him,” Endicott said.
They received support from people from all across the U.S. — including Pittsburg, California, Florida and from Baughman’s homestate, Texas.
“There's a lot of people out there that do good things and we are blessed to help and have something to give back,” Endicott said. “To the veteran community, that means so much for me to be able to be there for families that need help with some relief.”
Realizing the impact the shirts could make for other families, Endicott said he then decided to open nominations for other fallen soldiers’ families. Once a month, he plans to sell shirts and give $5 from each shirt sold to the family of the month.
“A month of us selling shirts might be able to help them pay bills or have some sort of relief,” he said.
Although there are many services for veterans and soldiers, Endicott said families left behind could benefit from community support.
“There are a lot of things people do for veterans, but I think a lot of people don’t realize what their wives and kids deal with as well, especially if they have lost someone,” he said.
He said he hopes the t-shirts spark conversation about families of fallen soldiers and he hopes it encourages people to help veterans and families in need, or be there for a veteran who needs to talk.
People can find the shirts at his online store, liftingforthefallen.com.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.