James P. Blecksmith was only 24 when he died. But by age 16, he already was displaying the quiet altruism that made him a natural as a Marine Corps officer, family members said.
“He led by example. He lived his life the way he talked about his life,” his sister, Christina, 27, said at the family home in San Marino.
The second lieutenant, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, was killed by sniper fire Nov. 11 in Fallouja, Iraq.
Blecksmith, who went by the nickname J.P., was a gifted athlete at Flintridge Preparatory School, family members said. His brother, Alex, 25, recalled being on the same track team when he was a senior and J.P. was a sophomore.
“During league prelims, I failed to qualify and he did. I was really upset with my poor showing,” his brother said. “He told my dad he would give up his spot in the league relay so I could run for him.”
As it happened, another relay spot opened up and both boys got to run. From that race, J.P. went on to become league champion in the 400-meter relay.
“He was 16 years old, and it was not about his ego or his glory,” his brother said. “It just shocked me that he was willing to give up his place. That was the first time I realized he was not just my brother, he was my best friend.”
Blecksmith’s sister said such humility epitomized his personality. “It’s the way J.P. was,” she said. “He was a leader. He fought alongside his Marines. He didn’t expect them to do anything he wouldn’t do.”
The Department of Defense told the family that Blecksmith, a platoon leader, was clearing houses of possible insurgents when he was killed. The events were still being pieced together, his sister said, but two of Blecksmith’s men reportedly were wounded and, after getting them to safety, he was shot while rechecking the house.
“He was on the roof -- apparently they start with the roof and work their way down,” his sister said. “He was shot in the shoulder. The bullet missed his flak jacket but a bone fragment pierced his heart. He died instantly.”
Friendly and outgoing, Blecksmith was known as a “big man on campus” in high school, said his brother, who estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 people attended the Marine’s funeral Nov. 20.
Blecksmith loved to travel. He took spring break trips with schoolmates to Italy, Spain and Greece. One year, he went to Costa Rica to help build a school and do other community projects.
Blecksmith was heavily recruited by Pac-10 schools because of his talent as a football quarterback, family members said. But his heart was set on going to the Naval Academy and becoming a Marine, like his father. “We have a long line of Marines in our family, and it embodied what he believed,” his sister said.
At the academy in Annapolis, Md., he played wide receiver on the football team before graduating as a commissioned officer in 2003.
Blecksmith left for Iraq on Sept. 10 as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. “He wanted to be in Iraq. He had a job to do, and he was doing it 100%,” his sister said.
He called home, wrote letters or e-mailed the family at least once a week. His last conversation with his sister and other family members took place a few days before his death.
“He was definitely kind of reflective,” his sister said. “He was worried about his men. He always said he just wanted to be the best leader for his men, and he wanted them to do a good job. He wanted his men to come home safely. And now they will come home safely.”
In addition to his brother and sister, Blecksmith is survived by his parents, Edward and Pamela. He was buried at San Gabriel Cemetery.