James Islam looked out to the crowd gathered Saturday in Weddington to dedicate a baseball field in memory of his son, Josh.
The crowd of more than 1,000 included Little Leaguers and Weddington High School baseball players. Josh Islam pitched on two back-to-back Weddington High state championship teams.
He drowned at age 18 on Jan. 13, 2014, during a water-screening test to get into Marines reconnaissance training at Camp Pendleton, Calif. His death spurred reforms in Marine Corps training.
“I want to express the great thankfulness we have for you in supporting us through a difficult journey, and we’re all on a journey,” James Islam said. “And everyone needs a little pick-me-up, a hug, a compliment, word of encouragement.”
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Josh Islam was the third of James and Donna Islam’s seven children.
Islam grew up playing little league on the fields where Saturday’s ceremony took place. The fields are part of the Wesley Chapel Weddington Athletic Association and are about a mile from the high school.
James Islam made sure everyone in attendance got a dog tag produced by the foundation established in his son’s memory.
Young players clustered to get one and put it around their necks.
The tags quote Joshua 1:9, the biblical verse after which Josh Islam was named, his father said.
“Be strong and courageous,” the verse says. “Do not be afraid. God is with you.”
Drowning led to ‘sweeping review’
Josh Islam decided after his sophomore year at Weddington High to serve his country after graduation by joining the Marines.
“He is one of my top five favorites of all time,” coach Travis Poole recalled after Islam’s death. “You knew what you were getting from him every day: full steam. He always wanted to finish first in everything he did. That’s what made Josh successful.”
Islam graduated from boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C., in October 2013. He graduated from Marine combat training at Camp Lejeune, and his military specialty was as a rifleman.
A top Marine Corps training commander was relieved of his duties after a four-month investigation into Islam’s death. The drowning also prompted a sweeping review of all training at the reconnaissance school, including how to assess a Marine’s swimming ability.
The specific screening event that Islam underwent was eliminated.
An investigative report obtained by the Observer through a Freedom of Information Act request detailed errors in judgment by trainers overseeing Islam as he attempted to tread water in his camouflage uniform, without boots, for 30 minutes. The report also found training and screening deficiencies.