Metro Detroit police chief posts Memorial Day tribute honoring Marine son killed in Iraq

Wolverine Lake police Chief John Ellsworth posts tribute to son

Justin Ellsworth (Photo: Wolverine Lake police Chief John Ellsworth)
Justin Ellsworth (Photo: Wolverine Lake police Chief John Ellsworth)

WOLVERINE LAKE, Mich. – A Metro Detroit police chief took to social media Monday to honor his son, who died as a Marine in Iraq, and remind people about the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Wolverine Lake police Chief John Ellsworth posted several pictures of his son, Justin Ellsworth, who was killed Nov. 13, 2004, while serving the country.

Here's the chief's full post:

"As I sit here in my living room, surrounded by memories of times past, I see photographs of happier times. I see Justin’s senior picture, taken in my dark blue suit and tie (the tie that I had to tie and that he complained about). 'It’s not me,' he said, putting it on. 'I know,' I replied. 'But I want at least one decent picture of you in a suit.' (I thought to myself, I sound like my dad.) I guess it’s a typical parental response.

"Other senior pictures that we display include the one that he really liked, the one that, since his death, has become somewhat famous. The one with the Black Cowboy hat and shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots. Now that was Justin.

"We also have a very large portrait of Justin in his Marine dress blues. That picture was enlarged and presented to us by my chief of police for display at Justin’s funeral. It now hangs over the piano in our living room with Justin’s Bronze Star ribbon dangling across the edge like a seal of approval.

"Next to that photograph is a large display case full of Justin’s combat ribbons and medals. Above that is the flag that was folded and presented to us at his funeral. You would never know that there are 21 shell casings tucked away in the flag from the 21 gun salute on that November day. But I know they are there, and it gives me comfort.

"Rounding out the pictures on that wall is a rather large oil painting of Justin. This painting was done by a family friend that is a professional artist. She used a photograph that I took of Justin on the very first day he was called a Marine, the day he was presented his Eagle, Globe and Anchor.

"That day was Dec. 18, 2003. After the ceremony, we went back to our hotel that was on San Diego Bay. We went for a walk around a marina and ended upon the observation deck overlooking some sailboats. As Justin turned around to look at me, I took the picture of him. It turned out very nice -- the sailboats reflecting in the water, Justin’s head tilted slightly, the puffy white clouds in the California blue sky. It made the perfect picture. It makes a better painting.

"I also remember that as we continued walking, we discovered that there was a business across the street called Ellsworth Marine, a place that sold yachts. I made Justin stand underneath the sign and took a picture of him in front of it.

"On the fire place, there are several more pictures: Jessica in her softball uniform, Justin lifting Jessica up, holding onto her at his high school graduation (she was 7 years old at the time, he 18), my wife and Justin with his cap and gown at graduation.

"These things are surrounded by little trinkets of memorials, things from around the nation, from friends, from strangers: an honor candle from a man in Florida, a stained glass Marine emblem from a local Marine family, awards from organizations, proclamations from cities, the state and federal governments -- too many things to list here, but still not enough memories.

"For those of you who don’t realize it, that’s what Memorial Day is all about: memories. The chances to make more memories with those we have loved and lost are gone. Those people that we speak about during ceremonies, parades and speeches, are real people, not distant heroes. Our Heroes. They have real families. They deserve this day. Please honor them for their sacrifices, because at my house, every day is Memorial Day."

Justin Ellsworth was awarded a Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device posthumously for his heroism during Operation Iraqi Freedom II.

Justin Ellsworth (Photo: Wolverine Lake police Chief John Ellsworth)
Justin Ellsworth (Photo: Wolverine Lake police Chief John Ellsworth)

Around 11:30 p.m. Nov. 13, 2004, a seven-man patrol left a platoon patrol base for a mission. Justin Ellsworth got a reading on his metal detector indicating a possible explosive device buried along an unimproved road, according to his website.

Justin Ellsworth searched for the explosive and exposed himself to danger. He determined the device was a homemade explosive, and he warned his fellow Marines to clear the area. There were seven Marines within the immediate area of the device and another four Marines about 20 or 30 meters away, according to the website.

Justin Ellsworth (Photo: Wolverine Lake police Chief John Ellsworth)
Justin Ellsworth (Photo: Wolverine Lake police Chief John Ellsworth)

The explosive was detonated by a nearby cellphone when Justin Ellsworth was right above it, wounding him. His body absorbed most of the detonation, sparing many other Marines from serious injury or death.

Justin Ellsworth died from his injuries.

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