Never Give Up: A Marines’ against all odds story
SALISBURY, Md – Pvt. Axel Ponce’s motto in life is “never give up, just push yourself.” It’s a motto that’s served him well considering his journey to becoming one the newest marines.
Ponce graduated James M. Bennett in June of 2019, then graduated boot camp in September, officially become a US marine. Ponce says boot camp was one of the hardest things he’s ever done, but in actuality, his life has been full of challenges.
Born in Puerto Rico, Ponce’s mom abandoned him virtually at birth and his dad died when he was seven. With no parents in the picture, his grandmother adopted him.
Before Ponce’s dad died though, Ponce’s father did make his son promise two things, to make something of himself and to work hard.
“That’s something that I promised to him, that I gonna study and do everything for me, to make him proud,” Ponce said.
So without mom or dad, grandma filled the void.
“So she raised me,” Ponce said, “She’s like my mom and dad for me.”
As Ponce says, setting the example for what hard work looks like.
“She was having two jobs so she can maintain all the family,” Ponce said. “She didn’t give up and she worked to get food for us.”
And while Grandma was working, Ponce was working too, focusing all of his time on studies so he could live out his dreams of becoming a pilot.
A dream that almost came to an end in September of 2017 when Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.
“When I wake up and I go outside, there were no trees outside like everything was gone,” said Ponce.
Ponce’s life was changed forever, as the home he knew was wiped away. Within a few days, his grandma then made plans for Ponce to move in with his aunt in Salisbury, Md.
“When she spoke to me and she said I’m fine, I’m doing good, but I really would like to send Axel over there, he’s concerned about not being able to graduate, schools are shut down, we don’t know how long this is going to take. So, immediately I said just send him over here,” said Jackie Lisjuan, Ponce’s aunt.
Lisjuan says she had only met Ponce once before that and barely knew him before taking him in. But she says that since he was family it didn’t matter.
Arriving in Salisbury
Barely speaking the language, Ponce arrived in Salisbury in October of 2017, less than a month after Maria had hit.
Not wanting to miss out on studies he would start school at Faith Baptist, trying to pick up where he had left off in 11th grade. Given what he had been through and because Lisjuan’s daughters already went to the school Faith Baptist granted Ponce free tuition.
Ponce says the transition was hard because he didn’t speak English, but he was determined to succeed.
He also started working part-time, so he could buy himself a car and to start making good on his promise to his dad to have a better life.
“I start my first job, I start in McDonald’s, later I get a second job in Denny’s, so I was doing both jobs and I was in school,” Ponce said.
In 2018 Ponce would end up transferring to James M Bennett, but unfortunately, his credits from Faith Baptist didn’t transfer. But Ponce wanted to graduate on time, so he opted to take day and night classes during the week so he could finish 11th and 12th grade at the same time. All while he was still working.
“He shocked me, I kept saying ‘you got A’s, you got B’s, when did you do this?’ All I know is he would lock himself up in his room and that’s it,” said Lisjuan.
Determined to finish, Ponce did just that and graduated in June of 2019, not even a year after he had left his home in Puerto Rico.
Then 3 months later, he graduated from boot camp, grandma making the trip both times.
“One of the things he taught me before he died and that, he told me to study because the life is hard… he would be proud of me if he looked at me now,” Ponce said.