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Fatherhood: Gold Star family member shares military legacy, loss

13 June 2022

From Anna Marie G. General, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

At the tender age of 11, he moved to Los Angeles. By the time he graduated high school, he was still unsure where life would take him. That changed when he enlisted in the Marine Corps; setting him on a career path that has allowed him to give back to the community.
“I served in the Marine Corps for seven years, got out and became a firefighter in San Diego county and stayed in the Marine Corps reserves and went to war in Desert Storm, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa,” said Michael “Top” Washington, veteran and Gold Star family member. “In 1994, I became a part of the Seattle fire department where I stayed there for 27 years and retired in December 2020. Now I am a therapist.”

Washington decided to become a therapist to help people in the community who experienced similar struggles he had faced in life, such as losing a son who was killed in action while serving in the Afghanistan war.

This played a vital part and was when he became a Gold Star family member - an immediate family member whose loved one died in service to our nation.

“When my son was killed in Afghanistan, it felt like a Jenga column came crashing down," said Washington. “After I was able to navigate that and turn my life around, I was thinking to myself how can I help and give back to the people with similar struggles so they don’t have to go through what I’ve been through. That is how I got my bachelor’s in social work and became a therapist.”

As part of giving back to the community and being a Gold Star family member, Washington and his family were among the selected families featured in the Oprah Winfrey Network in 2021 during a fatherhood segment where Oprah sent each guest on a trip to Maui. This also led him back to his childhood roots on the island of Oahu where he had the opportunity to visit and go on a harbor tour courtesy of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Public Affairs.

Coming from a family of military veterans which included his father, wife, son, daughter and numerous relatives in service, Washington was no stranger to the importance of serving his country, and his son followed in his footsteps.

His son was just 15 when he decided he wanted to follow in his father’s shoes during a father-son roadtrip.

“I was trying to reiterate to him that he does not have to go into service to satisfy me, we had a great relationship and I am very proud of him,” said Washington. “My son once said he wants to help people out there to protect and defend them.”

As part of Father’s Day, this visit back to his childhood home not only allowed him to show his family where he grew up but to honor and hold the memories he had with his son whom he lost in battle.

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