This past Saturday, I attended a ceremony in honor of USMC Captain Jesse Melton III. Capt. Melton is a Randallstown native who was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 9, 2008. Prior to being killed in Afghanistan, he had previously served a tour in Iraq and two tours in Okinawa. Capt. Melton comes from a family of service, his sister was a commissioned officer in the Army, his cousin was killed in Vietnam and other family members had served their country. The Park Heights Bridge in Baltimore County, which crosses I-695 has been dedicated in memory and in honor of Capt. Melton.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Capt. Melton but I have had the honor of working with his mother, Janice Chance, president of the Maryland/Delaware Gold Star Mothers. If you have the opportunity to meet Mrs. Chance, you will immediately recognize there is something special about this lady. In 2017 thus far she has volunteered over 1,100 hours to veteran causes. Mrs. Chance told me on our first meeting she relies on her deep religious faith to move forward with her life saying Jesse had accomplished on Earth what God had intended for him and she has to accept this is God’s will. “I will not allow myself to be bitter only strive to be better.”


The ceremony was held at the Colonial Baptist Church in Randallstown. As Mrs. Chance told those in attendance “you all know me and my husband [Charlton Chance, who is a minister] then you know we will only hold this ceremony in a church.”

I would estimate over 200 people attended the ceremony. In addition to the family and friends who attended were the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Four-Star Gen. Robert B. Neller, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, Deputy Secretary of the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs Retired Col. Robert Finn and numerous other military members and elected state and county officials.

Jesse was selected to be sent to the northeast area of Afghanistan. The Marine Corps were sending advisers there to assist and train the Afghan army to fight the Taliban. Mrs. Chance spoke and shared conversations with her son Jesse prior to his deployment. He told his mom he had a dream about this tour. “I have a bad feeling about this tour,” he said. “I feel like I’m either going to die or come home wounded,” he told his mother “I’m ready to die for my country, and whatever happens, it is in the Lord’s hands.”

Mrs. Chance said he told her “it is a win-win, if I don’t come home I am going to be with the Lord.” Mrs. Chance said she had a similar dream about her son.

A college friend of Capt. Melton spoke about their friendship in college and how close they became. She was struggling with personal issues and Capt. Melton helped her through some tough times. She said this was hard and fought back tears speaking about the person who he was. They stayed friends and kept in touch after college even when he was deployed. She recalled when she learned of his death at 5:30 in the morning she had received the devastating news by an email from Jesse’s sister that he had been killed and how devastating this news was to her.

Gen. Neller started his speech saying to the college friend of Capt. Melton’s, “it is supposed to be hard, it can rip your heart out, I do everything I can do to avoid memorials, I’m not good at them.” He then pointed at Mrs. Chance and said “I am here for that woman; I love that woman.” He fought back his own emotion and said “I sent him there.” Gen. Neller spoke about how in 2008 as a younger officer they received a mission to train and send Marines to support the Afghan army in the Northeast quadrant of the country who were actively fighting the Taliban. He selected the Marines who would be sent and spent a couple of months training them for this mission. He said they knew this area was difficult and this would be a difficult mission. He had known Capt. Melton and how great of a person he was and how competent of a leader and officer he was. Jesse was not supposed to be on that patrol on that day. One of Jesse’s fellow officers had a family issue and was trying to deal with that. Jessie told him, “You stay here and speak with your wife, I will lead the patrol.” On that day in the Parwan province of Afghanistan, the Humvee he was in struck a roadside bomb killing him and four others.

Gen. Neller noted that there has been a lot of news about notifying family when we lose a man or woman lately. He called Gen. John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, “a friend of mine a very good man.” Gen Neller pointed to Mrs. Chance and said not every family is like the Chance family and hugs the notifying officer like Mrs. Chance did in order to comfort the officer who must deliver the message you are burying a child.

Gen. Neller also thanked the Vietnam veterans in attendance. He told them they never received the appropriate welcome home for their service. He credited our society, and thanked to those who served in Vietnam that “regardless of your feelings about the war, our country has separated their feelings about the war from the brave men and women serving.”

Gen. Neller also shared that all of the Marines he visits, there are two things they almost always want to know. How are we doing, are we winning? And what do the people back home say, do they have our backs? The families of those who have lost a hero, they also want to know two things: that their family member did not die in vain and that they will not be forgotten. As for Mrs. Chance and her family, they will now know that as people drive across that Park Heights Bridge years from now and see the sign with Capt. Jesse Melton III on it people will ask, “I wonder what Capt. Melton did that would make him worthy of dedicating this bridge in his honor.” Rest in Peace Capt. Melton, Semper Fi.

Todd Mitchell retired from the Army National Guard as deputy provost marshal and is the director of the nonprofit Business Advocates for Veterans. Reach him at