TACOMA, Wash. -- Michael Washington is one of three generations of proud Marines. "It's about tradition, commitment, honor," he says.
Washington served 24 years in the Marines. A photo of his only son, "Little" Michael, greeting his father when he returned from the first Iraq War sits on display at the family's Tacoma home.
Fourteen years later Little Michael was a man and he followed his father's footsteps into the Marine Corps. Michael enlisted and was soon deployed to Afghanistan. Washington says his son simply wanted to help people who couldn't help themselves.
"I did feel that pride. And I felt that fear at the same time," said Michael.
That fear was realized in the worst way in 2008 when Little Michael Washington was killed by a roadside bomb. He was just 20 years old.
Since then, his parents have surrounded themselves with their son's Marine Corps buddies - joining them on relief missions to places like Haiti, and keeping his memory alive through those who knew and loved him.
"You just see the love that they have for him and you know you're not alone," said Michael's mom Grace, wiping away tears.
Today that memory is alive and well at Northeast Tacoma Elementary School. The Veteran's Day assembly honors a young man who once walked the halls here.
"Michael Washington was a little boy who was a lot like you," said John Dowd, one of Michael's early teachers. "He really liked to talk, and sometimes that got him in trouble." Giggles erupt from the crowd of kids.
It's a bittersweet day for Grace, who sees her son in the faces of the children paying tribute to her boy. On Thursday the school library was named in Michael Washington's honor.
"He loved to read," said Grace. "And he loved to smile."
Inside the library, Michael's second grade picture sits on a plaque next to one of the man he grew to be. The young man who just wanted to make a difference is doing just that. Michael's father hopes his son's death is no longer an end, but a starting point.
"If it can inspire one kid to step outside himself and become part of something bigger than himself, I think that would please him and honor his memory," said Michael.