"http://www.educationfoundation.com/ Scholarship Spolight: Honoring Corporal Antonio James “Tony Sledd” - Big T
Antonio James Sledd joined the Marine Corps and was one of the first Marines kilIed in Operation Enduring Freedom. During that week, VA Hospital friends, families and co-workers collected monies and decided to open the Antonio J. Sledd scholarship trust fund. This money is used to award annual college scholarships to select Gaither High students. One of Tony’s goals was to go back to college. Thru this scholarship, students from Gaither High School will live and carry out Tony’s dream. Gaither High School also proudly displays the flag that flew for Tony at half-mast over the Capitol. From the classrooms and hallways of Gaither High, Tony dreamed about his future. Through this scholarship in his memory, I know he is smiling -- just knowing that other Gaither students will be helped to realize their dreams. Gaither High school honored Tony’s ultimate sacrifice by placing a plaque that was mounted on a beautiful rock remembering Tony at the football field. Once in a while, I hear my friends who have children attending Gaither High School, talk about the moment of silence honoring Tony Sledd prior to the start of football games.
It is comforting to know that Tony’s Marine Lima Company still thinks of Tony as a man with potential leadership skills and a great man who died defending our Country. As his mother, I know he was a very positive, goal-focused leader. I asked him many times to leave the Marines because I was so afraid he might get killed. He refused to leave and told me he was proud to be a Marine and he always thought highly about the Marines, and the fellow Marines with whom he so proudly served.
As his mother, I am representing all of his family and friends that still love and miss Tony – or “Big T” – that is how he signed his e-mails from overseas – “Big T.”
My husband and I always felt blessed by God for allowing us to have our precious gifts of life, our twins, “Tony and Mikey” – they have brought us such joy. Tony always told me he would make me a proud mother – but, we were always proud of them -- from the day they were born -- and of the men they became. My husband and I wanted to keep Tony’s Legacy alive so we agreed to pay the total amount for the endowment. I want to recognize the James A. Haley VA Hospital staff, friends, and co-workers for supporting this initiative by making contributions thru the CFC initially and now through the endowment using direct deposit.
During a Veterans Day parade in Hillsborough County, Tony Sledd and his family were honored. While at the parade, people were screaming, “Tony Sledd will live forever.” One of the local motorcycle clubs had embroidered patches with the following message, “Love BIG T.”
I know now my son did not die in vain and indeed he touched many lives. The Hillsborough School Board also honored 4 soldiers that died during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom….Tony was one of those soldiers. The Roy Haney Park where Tony grew up and attended summer camp and later volunteered and became an employee of the summer camp program honored our fallen Hero Tony Sleed by submitting a petition to the Commissioner of the Hillsborough park requesting that the baseball park where Tony played baseball while a little kid and became a coach, be called “Tony Sledd Baseball Park.” The ceremony took place on October 13, 2003. The local news presented a special report on Tony’s accomplishments at the park and during the ceremony, 21 balloons were released in honor of our Beloved Marine Tony Sledd who would have been 21 years old that year along with presentation of the plaque with “Tony Sledd Baseball Park” inscribed. During the ceremony and presentation of the colors, two of the 6 flags came down. All of Tony’s friend from childhood were there and they all looked at the Flags down on the ground and smiled, saying …”That is Tony” - he wanted to make sure we all knew that he was there with us in spirit and grateful for the honor. He always told me he could not wait until his 21st birthday so he could be old enough to make his own decisions. But I still think Tony had it all, lived his life doing what he thought was best, achieving across his earth time, both love and peace. It is very obvious to me as I look back and see his accomplishments in life and how he touched so many other lives in his short 20 years on earth.
Tony lives in our hearts. Never does a day go by without our family talking about him, feeling close to his soul, and remembering his sense of humor, his candid smile, his short sweet answers, his jokes and his typical greeting, “Honey, I’m home.” That is how I want our son to be remembered. It has been written:
To live in hearts,
We leave behind
Is not to die.
As twins, Tony and Mikey naturally thought they would share their futures together. Tony was known for saying he “had Mikey’s back covered” – meaning he was watching out for him. Tony always wanted to serve his country. So, first they were going to spend four years in the Marine Corps gaining life experience and protecting their country. Then they were going to attend the University of Arkansas to major in Criminology – next, enter the police academy to become police officers – and later, pursue careers with the FBI.
Tony, a self-determined and self-confident young man, became one of our fallen heroes dying prior to the war -- paying the ultimate price doing what he wanted to do -- protecting innocent people from ruthless terrorists. May God Bless America and all the young heroes behind the enemy line who are willing to pay the ultimate price, and like Tony were willing to die to protect their Country and our freedom. Please hold these heroes, their families, and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers. As it has been said -- “Those who have died for their Country will never be forgotten. Their sacrifice will live on forever in the hearts of all who cherish freedom.”
On behalf of my husband, Tom, and son, Mikey, we wish to express our gratitude for remembering our son and for the donation to the Antonio J. Sledd Scholarship trust fund. Tony, always will be with us in spirit -- We will always love you “Big T.”"
Norma Figueroa of Tampa, Florida