“I was on my death bed, I was going to die but those Marines and sailors saved me,” Blamo Barlue recalled, his deep, soft-spoken voice waning at the memory.
Barlue is now a private first class in the United States Marine Corps, serving as a postal clerk in Okinawa, Japan, but his story started growing up along the Ivory Coast of West Africa, moving around constantly. His childhood was spent hiding form the unforgiving sun and running around in open-toed shoes. Surprisingly, he was better off than most, owning three pairs of clothing: one for church, one for school and one for regular day use.
His parents worked hard to provide for their large family. To this day, Barlue does not know how many siblings he has. His mother owned her own vendor stand, selling their family’s produce, like handmade peanut butter or the rice they harvested. His father was an English teacher, who became a principal at a nearby school. This was the everyday life until the region erupted into civil war uprooting their lives. Barlue’s parents were forced to quit their jobs and move the family to a nearby refugee camp in an effort to keep their children safe - their efforts backfired.
In 2003, a few months into living in the refugee camp, many of the children began to succumb to an outbreak of Measles. The viral-respiratory infection killed over 500,000 children world-wide in 2003, more than any other vaccine-preventable disease. Due to the harsh conditions and lack of necessary medical advancements, the Measles death toll in Africa skyrocketed. While men and women battled civil unrest, they lost their beloved children to an unseen foe.
Barlue laid on his death bed at the refugee’s makeshift hospital, a cramped tent filled with cots, for four months. His mother watched helplessly as she lost one of her sons, Barlue’s 6-year-old twin. Just when all hope seemed lost, the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy arrived, bringing the life-saving vaccine, and began constructing houses for the people as part of a humanitarian disaster and relief mission.
“That vaccine they gave me saved my life,” said Barlue, uncomfortably fidgeting with the fabric of his woodland camouflage blouse. “I might have been one of thousands of children that got that vaccine that day, but that vaccine saved my life and I will always remember that.”
With hearts heavy after the loss of their child, his family departed for the U.S. with restored hope and the chance at a new life. Despite leaving his beloved relatives behind, Barlue kept the fond memories of them close to his heart. He cherishes one in particular; the first time that he cooked for his family, and spilled his grandmother’s stew and rice all over the floor. Despite all of his hardship, the memory still brings a smile to his face.
After coming to America, Barlue’s hardworking family began to settle down. With time he perfected his English. He began to take pleasure in cooking and became quite good at keeping the food in the serving dish. He was put in advanced placement cooking classes in high school, the memories of cooking with his grandmother driving his passion further. He credits all of his success to the nation that gave his resilient family a second chance. As his high school years came to a close, he struggled with deciding what to do as a career.
“It was very frustrating and stressful when I was trying to choose what to do after high school,” said Barlue. “I wanted to do culinary and I was so passionate about that, but I felt that sense of duty to join the Marine Corps and that sense was overwhelming. I felt like I needed to do this.”
Barlue wanted to impact someone else’s life, the way the Marines had impacted his.
“I felt this need to serve because America had given us everything,” continued Barlue, now a Glendale, Arizona, native, and United States Marine. “I came with the clothes on my back and they gave us food, a home, an education. Americans are the reason that I have what I have.”
In 2016, Barlue enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and in 2017, he arrived to his first duty station, serving as a postal clerk with Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Installations Pacific- Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, Japan.
He draws strength from his past, his unforgiving childhood and his parent’s sacrifices with one resolute goal to leave an impact wherever he goes.
“I want to go on a humanitarian mission,” said Barlue. “I may not physically save someone’s life, but just being there can impact someone’s life without you even realizing. The little things that you do in life, that you think have no purpose, always do.”
Barlue will never forget the Marines who saved his life.
“If I could say anything to the Marines, I would try and say thank you for being there,” said Barlue pausing as he tried to gather his thoughts. “I’d tell them what they did, the sacrifices they made, did not go unnoticed. They protected people, and they saved them, healed them. I’d tell them that I joined the Marine Corps because of them. I’m not good with words but I want to do what they did for me. They were my hero – no, they are my hero.”
Pfc. Blamo Barlue pitches mail at the Camp Courtney Post Office aboard Camp Courtney.