Henry L. Sar III is just 19, but he's holding down a man's job. A private first class with the Marines, he's in Turkey, guarding the base from which the U.S. enters Iraq.
"He wrote me, April 4, and I got the letter, April 20," said his father, Henry Sar Jr., 38, of Centreville's Trinity Centre community. "He says he's losing weight, but he's doing fine."
A 2002 Centreville High grad, young Henry was born in Liberia, Africa, where his mother, Esther Boakai, still lives with his stepsister. At age 13, he came to the U.S. to live with his father, a processor associate with Freddie Mac.
Henry played basketball and was a forward on a travel soccer team. He liked hip hop music, and enjoyed lifting weights and hanging out with his friends. "I met him in my freshman year of high school, when he was a sophomore," said longtime friend Rachel Turner. "We played soccer together for fun and liked to go on walks. And he was really into the Marines — he could hardly wait to get in."
When Henry was a little boy in Liberia, said his father, many wars were going on in his country, and the child befriended some of the military personnel stationed at the American embassy. Then, in his junior year at Centreville, he came home from school one day, all excited.
"He said, 'Dad, there was a recruiter at school today, and I want to join the Marines,'" said Sar. "He said Marines are tough, they're good and they're always helping people."
SO AFTER GRADUATION, Henry went to boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and then to infantry school at Camp Geiger in Jacksonville, N.C. Next came more training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. and, the beginning of March, he deployed with the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines.
"He called a couple times and wrote some letters — they took a month to get here," said Turner. "He said it's hot and there are big sandstorms there. I sent him an Easter basket and also toothpaste and moistened wipes. He said he doesn't know how long he'll be over there, and he's not allowed to say where he is."
At first, she didn't want to accept the fact that he was going off to war, but she came to terms with it. "I worry about him," she said. "But I think it's kinda cool that I know somebody who's protecting me and my family and the whole country."
His father said Henry plans to eventually go to college and started taking some courses while at Camp Lejeune. He also wants to have a career in the Marines — and he's doing that now, in the infantry. When he called his father to say he was deploying, Sar was shocked because it was happening so quickly — Henry was leaving the next day.
"But I knew he had to go — it's his job," said his dad, who coached Henry's U-16 SYA travel soccer team and plays professional soccer, himself, for the Northern Virginia Royals. "He loves it; that's what he wants to do — to protect people and fight for people's rights."
STILL, SAR CAN'T HELP WORRYING about him, a little. "I pray for him every night," he said. "And when I wake up in the morning, I think God for protecting my son for another day. I believe God is with him and all his friends, looking after them. I am proud of him and very happy."
He expects Henry to be overseas for six months to a year. "Since the Marines are usually the first ones to get there and the last to leave, I think that'll probably be the case," he explained.
In the meantime, Sar writes letters to him and sends him care packages including sunflower seeds, trail mix, chewing gum and sports and teen magazines. And through it all, Henry's developed more of an appreciation of his dad's efforts as a parent.
"When he was in high school, I used to talk to him all the time and advise him about right and wrong, and he didn't like it," said Sar. "But when he got to boot camp, he wrote me a letter and said, 'Thank you for all the yelling you did. My drill instructors here yell at me all the time. But it's OK because I'm so used to you yelling and talking to me and making me strong.'"