James Gordon is no stranger to adversity.
Adopted around the age of 3 by a Jamaican family that moved to the United States a few years ago, the 18-year-old future Marine and current green-card holder has been trying to navigate the often arduous trek for immigrants seeking to succeed in their new country.
After meeting Marine Staff Sgt. Donald A. Rich, a recruiter, around the Christmas holiday, Gordon made the decision to enlist in the Corps, with a boot camp ship date following his graduation from Riverview High School in Tampa, Florida.
But that plan nearly came crashing down when Gordon’s adopted father decided to leave his son at Marine Recruiting Substation Brandon, just east of Tampa, several weeks before Gordon’s ship date to the Parris Island, South Carolina, recruit depot, Rich told Marine Corps Times.
One night, Gordon’s adopted father just started “bringing all his stuff” in the recruiting station and told the recruiters that Gordon was no longer “allowed to come home," Rich said.
Homeless and abandoned several weeks before his high school graduation and entry date into the Corps, Gordon’s uphill battle to become a Marine got much steeper.
The recruiters at the Brandon station told Marine Corps Times that Gordon had zero discipline issues and was well-liked by staff and teachers at his high school, where he maintained a nearly 4.0 grade-point average.
Gordon always “kept a smile on his face” and had a certain “charisma” about him, said Eric Scott, Riverview High School’s 9th grade assistant principal for student affairs.
He was a quiet kid, but came out of his “shell the last couple of years,” Scott said.
“James was a well-liked young man that did the right thing all the time. He was a student assistant in the office and was always willing to help out where needed,” said David Ramos, Riverview’s 10th-12th grade grade assistant principal for student affairs
The recruiting station’s staff noncommissioned officer in charge, GySgt. Cheops Dieujuste, said he had a “lengthy” conversation with Gordon’s father that night. But, as the evening closed out, Gordon’s father wouldn’t allow his son back into the house.
“He’s not staying in my house, he can move to a hotel, " Dieujuste recounted Gordon’s father saying to him.
Dieujuste says the father paid to put his son up in a hotel for three days, but Gordon had nearly a month to go before he graduated high school and shipped to recruit training.
“He’s your guys’ problem now. You guys figure out what to do with him,” Dieujuste says Gordon’s father told him.
The recruiters at the Brandon station started shelling money out of their own pockets to keep Gordon in the hotel and even drove him back and forth to school every day.
Dieujuste says his wife cooked food for Gordon and they helped him with groceries.
A local Tampa charity, dubbed Marine Families, also pitched in to ensure Gordon had food and shelter before heading to recruit training.
Cyd Deathe, the founder and executive director of the Marine charity, told Marine Corps Times that the organization helped negotiate an extended stay rate at the hotel for Gordon, and in less than 24 hours they raised more than $2,000 to help cover lodging and food costs.
Gordon lived in the hotel from May 3 to June 2 and shipped to Parris Island Monday, Dieujuste said.
“I truly hope he achieves his dreams of becoming a Marine," Ramos said. “He will undoubtedly add a can-do spirit to the Corps, and will absolutely be his brother’s keeper while serving.”
Deathe says that the group plans to send Gordon letters while he is at boot camp, and that some may visit him when he graduates.
Gordon’s job in the Corps will fall under the service management occupational field, his recruiters said.
Attempts to reach Gordon’s father were unsuccessful.