Family Focus: Jacksonville marine’s legacy to help veterans and service members continues

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — This month, we’re recognizing our local veterans and military families.

In today’s family focus, we’re taking a closer look at the legacy of Marine Cpl. Joshua Watkins, a Jacksonville man who lost his life 15 years ago while serving in Iraq.

His legacy to help other veterans continues, through a college scholarship that is partly funded through a tennis tournament at a local YMCA.

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Watkins’ mother, Amy Vazquez, remembers the moment he joined the Marines while he was a student at the University of North Florida to protect his country.

“Junior year said, ‘Mom, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to go,” she recalled.

“Josh loved this country, he loved the Marines.”

Tragically, Watkins lost his life during his second deployment in Iraq in 2006, just nine days before coming home.

“It’s amazing to me that it has been 15 years,” Vazquez said. “Sometimes it seems like yesterday that Josh was here.”

His legacy continues at UNF today, thanks to the Marine Corporal Joshua C. Watkins Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund Vazquez created for veterans in his honor.

“The reason we did that is because Josh left college junior year, and he promised me that he’d go back and get his degree,” she reminisced. “But he didn’t live to fill that promise.”

Now, that fund is valued at more than $300,000, and it’s helped 46 students get an education.

“I would think he’d be proud,” Vazquez said.

The Williams Family YMCA is helping raise money for this scholarship. This YMCA is where Watkins grew up.

“He was a huge advocate for the Y so we’re very honored to honor him,” pointed out Melissa Yuchasz, co-strategy leader of military initiatives at the YMCA.

“He was a lifeguard, he was a camp counselor, and he eventually went on to work behind the front desk,” Vazquez also added.

A 15th annual tennis tournament on Saturday, Nov. 13 is one event honoring him and our service members at the YMCA. In addition to raising money for the scholarship at UNF, the event will also raise money for the Williams Y Stronger For Our Community Campaign, which gives kids access to enriching experiences in our youth sports programs.

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The tournament starts at 10:30 a.m., and while there may not be many spots left to register to play, the community is welcome to attend and show their support. Service members will get a free lunch at 11:30 a.m., and they can also take advantage of this YMCA facility and those in the area, since service members and their families get in free all month long.

Vazquez hopes the community will support the YMCA and her son’s legacy.

“It goes to a very good cause,” Vazquez emphasized.