In Honor of Fallen Brothers

Posted on May 23, 2024 in: General News

In Honor of Fallen Brothers

A Marine Corps veteran and Knight carves battlefield crosses for families whose sons made the ultimate sacrifice

By Hunter Cates



Dust dances in the air every time Anthony Marquez carves his latest wooden statue. With dozens under his belt, he’s honed his craft, but transforming a dead tree into a piece of art is anything but easy.

First, he finds a log that’s not too green and transports all 700 pounds of it to a shed on his family’s land in Sperry, Oklahoma. He then cuts it down to 60 inches before sawing, torching and painting for hours. He works in different conditions, but the design is always the same: a pair of combat boots and an infantry rifle topped by a helmet — an arrangement known as a battlefield cross.

The hardest part, however, isn’t the work; it’s what each cross represents. Marquez’s carvings are beautiful, but he wishes that he never had to make them.

“I hate doing them,” admitted Marquez, a former Marine sergeant and a member of Holy Family Council 10388 in Tulsa. “There’s a reason they’re being done, and the reason is somebody was killed.”

Sometimes, it’s only through the fog of tragedy that purpose emerges. Marquez, now 36, discovered a personal mission nearly a decade ago, when he experienced the anguish of families who’d lost a loved one in service to their country. Since 2016, he has delivered more than 80 hand-carved battlefield crosses throughout the United States. He has said he plans to keep carving until he completes 100.

“I’m compelled to do it,” said Marquez. “I want the families to know their sons are not forgotten.”


Anthony Marquez was born and raised in Tulsa, one of five siblings in a Catholic family of Mexican and Native American (Choctaw) descent. Growing up, Anthony was either drawing cartoons or tinkering in his father’s shop, eventually building custom motorbikes and go-carts from spare parts. But ever since age 6, Marquez dreamed of following in his beloved Uncle Robert’s footsteps and joining the U.S. Marine Corps.

“We knew Anthony was going into the Marines, and there was nothing we could do to stop him,” said his older brother, Manny. “His path was chosen.”

Marquez enlisted during high school in 2006. After graduation and boot camp in 2007, he deployed to Cuba, Spain and Israel before being sent to school in 2010 to learn to handle bomb-sniffing dogs. He deployed to Sangin, Afghanistan, in March 2011 as part of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.

“He was quiet, but I could tell he was an artist,” said Marquez’s squad leader, retired Marine Sgt. James “Matt” Amos of Wichita, Kansas. “He’d always come back from a weekend with a new drawing or tattoo.”

Their interaction was brief, partly because Marquez was busy on “dog duty” and partly because Amos lost both legs to an improvised explosive device three months into deployment. He saw Marquez’s true character after the war.

“I was an injured leader and people often don’t know how to handle that,” said Amos. Back home after the deployment, Anthony got off the bus and immediately greeted his former superior. “Anthony was the first one to greet me after the formation was over.”

Marquez’s own guardian angel was working hard during his time in Afghanistan.

“I was once standing on 15 pounds of [homemade explosives] and the IED didn’t go off,” he said. “How can you not feel protected at that point?”

Another time, he did experience an IED blast, but thankfully suffered only minor injuries. His brother remembers the chilling call.

“On the day my wife went into labor, my phone rang,” Manny recalled. “When I saw it was Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, my heart sank. I answered, and on the other line — silence. Suddenly, I hear Anthony’s voice: ‘Hey. Just wanted to tell you I got blown up today, but I’m OK.’ On the day my son was entering the world, my brother almost left it. That puts the nerves on edge and makes life at home collide with the battlefield.”

Marquez survived the deployment, but 17 of his brother Marines did not. One KIA was his close friend, Lance Cpl. Robert Greniger.

Marquez’s spirit was shaken, but his faith held firm. He used his God-given gifts to create a little piece of heaven in the hell of war by building a chapel and altar out of scrap wood and rocks.

“My mother sent rosaries and prayer cards, and I’d put them in an ammo can next to the altar,” recounted Marquez, who named it the Chapel of Robert Greniger.

“When the priest would come, he’d say Mass there.”


Anthony Marquez was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in March 2012 and threw himself into weight lifting, building custom cars and skydiving — anything to distract from the pain.

Though grateful to be home, Marquez was haunted by the memory of his 17 brother Marines and riddled with survivor’s guilt. He also suffered from PTSD and drifted from his faith. Without the camaraderie and purpose his military service had given him, Marquez felt his life was becoming unbearable.

Twice he put a gun in his mouth, thinking he had nothing left to live for.

He was not alone in his grief. Five years after Robert Greniger’s death, Greniger’s mother tried to take her life. This desperate act opened Marquez’s eyes, and his heart. He decided he could change his own life by serving the Gold Star families whose sons had lost theirs.

Marquez launched the XVII Carvings Project in 2016. Over the next three years, armed with his chainsaw, his truck and his passion, he hand-carved and then personally delivered battlefield crosses to each of the 17 families who’d lost a son during his deployment.

Battlefield crosses, usually formed with a rifle, helmet and boots, have been erected since at least World War I, at first to mark the location of fallen fighters on a battlefield and later simply to honor troops killed in combat.

“I had no carving experience outside of cutting firewood,” Marquez said. “But I was like, ‘I’ve got to do something.’”

Money was often tight, and he spent many nights at seedy motels or sleeping in his truck as he drove coast to coast, eventually logging a total of 46,000 miles. Tracking down the families was also a challenge, but he wasn’t going to let anything stop him.

Lance Cpl. Joe Jackson was the first Marine killed during Marquez’s deployment — on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011 — and one of the six he knew personally.

“When I learned that Jackson was killed, that’s kind of when the war started for me,” Marquez recalled.

Marquez delivered a battlefield cross to Jackson’s adoptive parents, Shawn and Faye Marceau, at their home in Yakima, Washington, on April 24, 2017.

Shawn, who also served in the Marines, remembered being overcome with emotion when Marquez arrived with the cross.

“It was overwhelming knowing somebody cared as much as we did,” Shawn said. “I knew he could feel the pain that I was feeling. … It brought us some peace in that abyss of blackness, knowing there’s an angel out there for us, even if he’s got one wing in the fire.”

Another Marine killed during Marquez’s deployment was Sgt. Adan Gonzales Jr., who died Aug. 7, 2011, leaving behind a wife and three young children. Marquez presented a battlefield cross to his family in his hometown of Bakersfield, California.

“We appreciated that Anthony, who never knew our son personally, would go so far out of his way to honor him,” said Gonzales’s father, Adan Sr., a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Council 13925 in Bakersfield. “It gives us solace that Adan’s sacrifice is never forgotten.”


A project that started with 17 Gold Star families has grown to serve more than 80 families and veterans organizations. Across the nation, Marquez has cultivated the community he didn’t know he needed, and that Gold Star families needed too.

“I’m extremely proud of him for coming up with something like this,” said Amos, Marquez’s former squad leader. “It honors the fallen, and honors the families, because it’s our job to tell their stories.”

While Marquez undertook this mission to honor his fallen Marine brothers, in the process, he also became closer to his actual brother. Manny, a filmmaker, joined him on a journey to revisit the first 17 Gold Star families in 2021, the 10th anniversary of the death of their sons, a story the brothers tell in the documentary Make Peace or Die.

“This gave him a purpose to fulfill, a mission to accomplish, and it was the first step on his own road to healing,” said Manny.

While Marquez knows the scars of war will never completely heal, he’s discovered renewed purpose in the XVII Carvings Project — and the brotherhood he’s found since coming home, including within the Order.

“Fraternity is important because it helps you grow as an individual, but also as a man. The Marine Corps was that for me,” said Marquez. “That’s what you miss when you get out, and what you can find in the Knights.”

The values of the Marines are honor, courage and commitment. “Those are similar to the Knights,” noted Manny. “It’s a way of life that certain men embody. My brother is one of those men. He always believed that passage from John 15: ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’”

The Knights of Columbus was a great support to the Gonzales family as well. Adan Sr.’s Fourth Degree assembly provided an honor guard at the funeral of his son — who planned to join the Knights after his deployment — and brother Knights have provided a listening ear. More than anything, the Gonzaleses have found strength in God, as their son did in Afghanistan.

“I do believe God is with me on these long patrols through the poppy fields, and on the long cold nights we wait in ambush,” Adan Jr. wrote in a letter home. “He helps me through the unknown and uncertainty, the fear and misfortune, and every risk we encounter daily. My life is in his hands, and I trust in him.”

Like this letter, the battlefield cross Marquez carved in memory of Adan Jr. is a tangible sign of hope and healing.

And with so many Gold Star families still out there, does Marquez really expect to retire after his 100th battlefield cross?

“No,” he said. “As long as people still want them, I’ll carve them.”


HUNTER CATES is a freelance journalist based in Tulsa, Okla., where he is also a member of Holy Family Council 10388.