With dedication and hard work, Army Sgt. Steve Morin Jr. paved many paths for himself and future generations even after almost being gone for more than a decade.
Even though Steve Morin Jr. thought of himself as a regular guy, there was nothing regular about him. He was a first-generation, Hispanic Texas Tech University graduate, a father, son, husband, U.S. Navy veteran, U.S. Army National Guard sergeant and war hero.
If you were to call him a hero, he would just say he was only a “regular guy.” That's at least what he went by while he was deployed in Iraq. He even had the title patched onto his uniform.
Steve was only 34 years old when he was killed in action by an improvised explosive device (IED) on Sept. 28, 2005, that detonated near his Humvee west of Umm Qasr, Iraq.
To honor his military service along with his time at Texas Tech, the Military and Veterans Programs are creating a scholarship in his name to help support military and veteran students at Texas Tech beginning this fall.
A happy, jolly boy
Steve's mother, Audrey, described her son as happy and jolly when he was a child. He was fun-loving, caring, a protective older brother and always had strong leadership skills. He was their firstborn, and Audrey and her husband, Steve Sr., knew he would go on to achieve great things along with their younger son Jay and daughter Leticia.
“He had a lot of good qualities,” she said. “Since he was the firstborn, leadership skills were instilled in him. That is why he went into the U.S. Naval Academy. We never held our children down. We always told them that the most important thing for them to do was to get an education, and that's exactly what he did.”
Audrey said her son liked the “good stuff” in life. She joked if she gave $30 to Jay and $30 to Steve, Jay would buy five shirts and Steve would buy one.
“He liked the good stuff, but he was willing to work for it,” she said. “He worked wherever he could. But a lot of the time, I told him that if he wanted the good stuff, then he'd have to go to school and work for it. Why work yourself to death and just get a little money when you can get an education and make a little more?”
Growing up in Brownfield, Steve was a Boy Scout, played all sports, had good grades, never really got into trouble and enjoyed going camping and fishing with his dad.
Audrey said she remembers the simple things the most when he was a boy – life at home; watching him play football and baseball; he and Jay picking on each other – and she always enjoyed him being there.
He and Audrey shared a special mother-son bond. Audrey said her son was detail-oriented, even after he left home.
“He would always call me, send birthday cards, Mother's Day cards and flowers,” she said. “He always found the time to call when he was in the Naval Academy, the military or wherever he was. He traveled a lot. But no matter what, he would always call just to say hi. He was a very sweet boy.”
When he graduated from high school at the age of 17, Steve went into the Naval Academy to pursue a career in the U.S. Navy. Later stationed in San Diego, he spent several years there before returning to Lubbock to continue his college career.
From college graduate to fatherhood
Adorning the walls of Steve's bedroom at his childhood home are all things military and Texas Tech. There are two Texas Tech quilts Audrey made, photos, a Red Raider cowboy hat Steve would wear to every football game and an Omicron Delta Epsilon honor society plaque he received before graduating in 2000.
When he returned to Texas, he pursued his education at Texas Tech, earning not just one, but two degrees in economics and finance, becoming the first college graduate in both Steve Sr. and Audrey's families.
During the winter of 1996 in his sophomore year at Texas Tech, Steve was working at the South Plains Mall for Cherry Hill Photography when he met his wife, Gwendolyn. He was Santa; she was an elf. Gwen was attending Texas Tech to get a degree in social work, and she, too, was a first-generation college graduate.
Gwendolyn said she and Steve started as good friends. She thought he was endearing, strong-willed, protective and had a great sense of humor. After their friendship began he was called back to the Navy to fulfill 18 more months of duty and put school on hold until he could return.
While he was stationed on the U.S.S. Constellation, the two stayed in contact with each other by phone and letters. They were married in 1999, when he returned home.
Gwendolyn was a single mom to her daughter, Brianna, and was working two jobs while working on her social work degree. When she and Steve got married, he took Brianna as his own daughter when she was just 3 years old.
“He brought structure to our lives, and that's what we both needed,” Gwendolyn said. “Brianna remembers the love he shared for us, taking her out to get a Coke, protecting her, encouraging her and setting a good stage for what a man should be like and how a lady should be treated. He was very strong and protective, but also very compassionate and loving.
“When we were dating, Steve would pick us up and take us both out on a date. I just remember how impressed I was because he had bought Brianna a seat belt harness to keep in his car just for her, and to me, it showed that he was concerned about her safety. After we were married, Brianna definitely became daddy's little girl.”
After Steve graduated, he debated whether to re-enlist in the Navy. Keeping his family first, he decided to go into the Army National Guard instead of making a career out of the Navy. They moved to Arlington after they both graduated from Texas Tech and Steve began managing Walgreen's stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area while in the reserves.
Shortly after they married, they welcomed their son Esteban, born on Sept. 11, 1999.
Gwendolyn said their life together and as a family was always an adventure as Steve would always try to make life fun, whether it was being at home, going to the store or even pushing each other in the cart at the grocery store.
While he was working for Walgreen's, Gwendolyn and their children would visit him at work and he always enjoyed being with his family.
Steve was later scheduled to go to Officers Candidate School but was deployed to Iraq in January 2005. While there, he did security work for the convoys.
Taking home and Texas Tech abroad
While Steve was deployed, he brought as many pieces from home that he could. In true Red Raider fashion, his bedding was Texas Tech-themed and proudly represented the scarlet and black. He called home often, spoke with Gwendolyn and their children and watched as many Texas Tech football games he could.
He and a friend even set up their own Raider Alley during football season to cheer on the Red Raiders, just as if he were home, wearing that large Texas Tech cowboy hat cheering in the stands at Jones AT&T Stadium.
Audrey said when Steve would call home he didn't really talk about what was going on in Iraq but loved talking about life at home.
“He never talked too much about what was going on over there,” she said. “All he would say is that he was doing security work for the convoys. I thought, ‘oh, dear,' because I was concerned about his safety. But he was doing what he wanted to do; he was happy.
“When he would call, he'd say, ‘Talk to me, mom. Tell me about the family,' because he wanted to hear about normal stuff. So I would go on and give updates about what was going on here at home, and he was just happy to hear the news. That was very important to him.”
Even though he was happy to be doing this work, he did miss home.
“One time when he came home, he, Gwen and the kids were over here and he sat down on the couch and just relaxed,” Audrey said. “He was just happy to be at home. I wish he could be home now.”
When Steve's family received the heart-breaking news of his death in September 2005, it was the hardest thing his family went through. For three or four years, his family just put pause on their lives. The loss of Steve hit hard.
Gwendolyn said for about three years, she introverted into her own life with their two children and was at a loss for what had happened. She remembered though three words Steve had told her while he was still alive: “continue to live.”
Gwendolyn took her late husband's advice and honored him by doing so. She had already earned another bachelor's degree from the University of North Texas in sociology and then began working on a master's degree in social work from Abilene Christian University after she, Brianna and Esteban moved to Abilene. She now is a clinical social worker.
Audrey also honored her son by continuing to live. She began quilting with a group to make quilts for veterans and found support with mothers whose children died while fighting for our country.
“Continue to live,” they remembered Steve's words and as time went on more people went on to honor by those words.
The living legacy
Steve and Gwendolyn's children hold fast to the memories of their father. Esteban was 6 years old and Brianna 12 years old when their father died, but they continue to honor their father by achieving great things.
Now Esteban, 16, is a Boy Scout working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, like his father. He is in a Junior ROTC program and plans to attend Texas Tech after high school to become a lawyer. Down to their looks, mannerisms, personality and aspirations, Esteban is a spitting image of his father. The chain effect Steve began continues to live as his son plans to follow behind in his father's footsteps.
Even though he was young when Steve died, he still remembers a lot about his father. Just like Steve Sr., Steve would take Esteban fishing and enjoyed taking him to Bass Pro Shop when they lived in Arlington. He loves hearing stories about what his father was like and keeps his life alive through the memories and stories he and his family possesses.
Brianna also honored her father's words. Now 23, she is working to become a nurse and remembers the nine years they had together when Steve came into her life. While he was deployed, he was in the process of legally adopting her.
It's been almost 11 years since Steve died, but his legacy is still very much alive. This new Texas Tech scholarship will memorialize the trailblazer, the hero he was and will always be.
Now remarried, Gwendolyn said Texas Tech will always be near and dear to her heart because that's where the two met. She remembers riding the bus together, walking around campus, and how he would always be waiting outside of Holden Hall with a Diet Coke for her while she was in class. That's where their life began.
“Texas Tech was home for us,” she said. “This scholarship is just wonderful. The kids and I always had thought it would be something great to do, so this scholarship is prayers answered. Steve and I were very education-driven and goal-oriented and to see other young people go to school is a great thing. He thought it was also a great thing for young Hispanics to attend school and major in things that would bring a good career and life, so this scholarship will be a great thing for Texas Tech to have for military and veteran students.”
Steve has been honored in many different ways since he died from memorial services, drawings, letters from Capitol Hill, flags, medals and now the military and veteran scholarship.
Audrey said she and her husband are proud Texas Tech would honor their son in this way because of how important education was to him.
“I'm very honored that Texas Tech would put a scholarship in my son's name,” Audrey said. “My son was very into getting an education, and I'm glad there will be a scholarship to help others do just that. My husband and I are very proud of that. I would like to see how far these students who receive the scholarships go and what they achieve, and I never would have expected something like this. My son has been gone almost 11 years and he hasn't received recognition like this before, and I am so proud that Texas Tech is doing that for him.”
The scholarship will be available this fall through the Military and Veterans Programs with initial funding for the scholarship donated by the Military Order of the Purple Heart South Plains of Texas Chapter 0900. Students will be required to have a 3.0 GPA and be either a full-time graduate or undergraduate student. Two students will be selected for scholarship money of $1,000 each.
Lou Ortiz, director of the Military and Veterans Programs, is excited to offer this scholarship to students this fall and hopes this scholarship will continue to grow over time.
To donate to the scholarship fund, contact Ortiz at (806) 834-6538 or firstname.lastname@example.org.