MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. -- It was the day after Christmas 2012, and the Ramseys still had family over for the holiday. The house was decorated and glowing with lights and the chatter of children filled the house.
Late in the afternoon James Ramsey and his wife, Minerva “Minnie” Ramsey, were in the kitchen cleaning and putting away leftovers when their son, Daniel “D.J.” Deleon, walked in to let them know that highway patrol was at the front door.
James and Minnie went to greet them and suggested they speak in the garage for privacy. They walked to the garage where the Christmas tree was still visible from the living room window. That’s when the officers told James Ramsey and his wife news that would change their lives forever; their oldest daughter was found dead.
Minnie dropped to the floor in tears.
In the shadow of that horrible event, James and his wife adopted their deceased daughter’s sons Angel, Eric and Victor.
Now, four years past the accident, Angel stood in front of his grandfather, now Maj. James Ramsey, the aviation ordnance officer of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron (MAG) 11 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, and swore to support and defend the constitution as a United States Marine, continuing the family legacy.
Throughout the years, the Ramsey family used the Marine Corps as a foundation for strength.
Maj. Ramsey joined the Marine Corps in 1990 and worked his way through the enlisted ranks, later he commissioned as an officer. Once he met and married his wife Minnie, their lives always involved the Marine Corps, and they introduced the Corps lifestyle to their family.
While enlisted, Maj. Ramsey did a tour as a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, California. Deleon, at the time a pre-teen, would go to work with his father.
When Maj. Ramsey and his family lived in military housing in Tierra Santa, California, 13-year-old Deleon met his neighbor Shaun Kellam, who was 14 years old at the time. The Ramseys soon grew fond of the teen and came to accept him as part of the family, even calling him their son. Kellam later went on to marry one of Deleon’s sisters.
With such a strong father-son bond between Maj. Ramsey, Deleon and Kellam, it wasn’t a surprise when they both showed interest in joining the Marine Corps. Kellam joined first in 2008 and Deleon later in 2012.
Throughout the years, the Marine Corps always seemed to bring them back together. From time to time Maj. Ramsey and Deleon would unexpectedly run into each other on deployments, and later became stationed together at MCAS Miramar, with Kellam close by at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
The Marine Corps kept the Ramsey family close throughout the years and after the accident, the Corps became a staple in Maj. Ramsey’s grandson’s lives as well.
Angel, the oldest of the three grandsons, was the first to show interest in following in his grandfather’s and uncles’ footsteps.
While Deleon was in boot camp, Minnie would bring Angel and his brothers to the depot in hopes of spotting Deleon while in training.
“These kids have known nothing but the Marine Corps,” said Minnie. “This is their whole life; they were born into this.”
With Angel being so young, the accident affected him, added Minnie. He sometimes got into trouble but his uncles were great role models to him.
On June 14, 2016, Angel Smith was ready to make the commitment.
At the Military Entrance Processing Station, San Diego, Maj. Ramsey and his wife were waiting for their sons to arrive. Deleon is now a sergeant with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 232 aboard MCAS Miramar, and Kellam is now a sergeant and drill instructor for Bravo Company, 1st Battalion Recruit Training Regiment, at MCRD San Diego. Both showed up at the MEPS to watch their nephew swear-in to the Marine Corps. The MEPS Marine Corps liaison set aside an empty room for the family, so they could do the ceremony in private.
In a room with his closest family, his grandmother who raised him after losing his mother and his uncles, Angel was sworn into the Marine Corps by his grandfather.
“We faced the most difficult and devastating tragedy as a family, the loss of our oldest daughter to a sudden tragic accident,” said Minnie. “Leaving Angel and his two brothers, we have been raising them ever since. Our strong family relationship has helped us to persevere daily through our loss.
“Being able to have his grandfather swear him in to his commitment to the Marine Corps is not a common situation, neither is having four active duty Marines who are family members serving side by side, especially under the grim challenges we have been faced with.”
The family is closer than ever, proud of Angel and awaiting his ship date, according to Minnie.
“It felt so great to have my grandfather swear me in,” said Poolee Smith. “I really look up to him and to my uncles.”
The whole family worked to overcome the loss of a daughter, sister and mother. They came together to not only be there for each other, but to help steer Smith in the right direction after losing his mother. They molded him into the young man he is today, who overcame his heartache and used it to commit to himself and the Marine Corps.
“It felt like, if you were in a rushing river getting swept downstream, and the Marine Corps was the rock to hold on to,” said Maj. Ramsey. “But soon the water will subside, and you have to get back up.”