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Remembering 'Fudgie': Shy man to confident soldier

By Carly Costello, Special to CNN
Juarez Jackson holds the plaque that commemorates the award of the Purple Heart to his cousin, Spc. Marlon Jackson.
Juarez Jackson holds the plaque that commemorates the award of the Purple Heart to his cousin, Spc. Marlon Jackson.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Spc. Marlon Jackson was killed when a roadside bomb detonated in Iraq in 2003
  • Marlon is remembered by his cousin as a shy, introverted young man
  • Marlon became more confident after joining the Army
  • Marlon's life influenced his cousin, Juarez, to work as software engineer in defense industry

(CNN) -- For most of his life, Marlon Jackson was shy. He was the kind who would stand in the corner at a party swaying side-to-side, quietly sipping on a beer while others danced and socialized.

"We called him Fudgie," Marlon's cousin, Juarez Jackson, said. "Fudgie was a great cousin with a smile that could light up an entire room. He was not the person with the most words, but he had a great sense of humor and personality."

CNN first learned about Marlon when his name was added to the Home & Away database, an interactive memorial for the troops who have lost their lives fighting in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Thanks to Juarez, we were given an opportunity to learn more.

Marlon was nicknamed Fudgie after a character in a reggae song who was known for being outgoing and was quite the ladies man, someone who Marlon was not. Juarez, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, explained that it is common in Jamaican culture to give someone a nickname that is opposite of who they really are.

"If someone's big, we call them smally. If they're tall, we call them shorty," Juarez said. "It was kind of a play on him not being that outgoing and him being a real introvert."

Marlon with his father, Leighton Jackson, at his graduation from Hudson Catholic High School in 1997.
Marlon with his father, Leighton Jackson, at his graduation from Hudson Catholic High School in 1997.

Marlon was born in Jamaica and adopted at nine by Leighton Jackson and Lois La Grenade and a few years later, he moved to New Jersey with his adopted father.

Around 14, his cousins in Georgia, who he would visit often, dubbed him Fudgie. He often introduced himself to others using the obverse nickname.

"He loved it," Juarez said. "Everybody called him Fudgie, and he got a big kick out of it."

Marlon might have been quiet, but according to Juarez, when he did talk, he always had something interesting to say.

"Some people, they don't need to say anything and they just have that way about them," Juarez said. "Everyone listened when he said something because he rarely spoke. (Marlon was) just very on point with the words that came out of his mouth."

But when Marlon enlisted with the U.S. Army in 1999, Juarez saw a big change in his cousin's personality. He started to break out of his shell and became more confident in himself, something his cousin wants people to remember.

Marlon sent this photo of him in his service uniform to his uncle, Raynor Jackson, who he would visit in Georgia several times a year.
Marlon sent this photo of him in his service uniform to his uncle, Raynor Jackson, who he would visit in Georgia several times a year.

"I want people to remember him giving it all but also remember how the service made him better," Juarez said. "I saw how great Marlon had become as an individual. He still had his introvert self, but he was just way more confident, way more powerful as a person. It was great to see that, and I know it was the Army that brought that out of him. I don't think there is anywhere else that could have done that to him like the service did."

When Marlon enlisted, pre-September 11, 2001, it never crossed his cousin's mind that one day he might see combat.

"The most war you'd hear going on is between Biggie and Tupac and they just passed away," Juarez said. "You never thought about any global war going on. That was in the back of our minds."

Even when Marlon was deployed to Iraq in March of 2003, Juarez never thought that Fudgie might not return. But when his uncle told him on November 13, 2003, that Marlon had been killed by a roadside bomb two days prior, on Veterans Day, his whole life changed.

"When the Army sent down soldiers to Jamaica to do the whole 21-gun salute, it brought tears to my eyes," Juarez said. Marlon was laid to rest in Kingston, Jamaica, where his father currently lives.
"When the Army sent down soldiers to Jamaica to do the whole 21-gun salute, it brought tears to my eyes," Juarez said. Marlon was laid to rest in Kingston, Jamaica, where his father currently lives.

"In your 20s, you don't think that someone is going to pass away. You just don't think that someone is going to be 25 and not be here anymore," Juarez said. "It was kind of hard to believe."

At the time of Marlon's death, Juarez was in college studying computer science. He had known since he was in the sixth grade that he wanted to be a software engineer, but he did not know in what capacity until his younger brother started working in the defense industry and cousin Marlon enlisted in the Army.

"It was an encouragement to me to do something that I thought was more meaningful," Juarez said. "What Marlon did, what soldiers do, that makes a difference. That's shaping the world. That's shaping the future."

Juarez started working for the defense industry in 2005 as a software engineer, and one of his first projects involved outfitting U.S. military Humvees with armor that could help protect troops from rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices, something that Juarez believes could have possibly saved his cousin.

Juarez is still with the defense industry, working side-by-side with service members from all around the world. He knows that what he and his fellow engineers do makes a difference, and he loves that they are all working towards the same goal: helping the brave men and women serving in the armed forces.

"I think (Marlon) would have been proud of the accomplishments that my brother and I have made," Juarez said. "I am just kind of disappointed that he's not here to share in some of this."

But to this day, Juarez can't say he has bad feelings about his cousin going to war.

"He did an admirable thing. He did something that I think is one of the highest callings you can have in life -- to serve other people. He did that with zeal and gusto, and no one had to pull him dragging to do it. He did it because he wanted to do it, and he knew it was something that would make him better."

 
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