Photo Information

Master Sgt. Paul Vanek, a combat engineer with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, salutes one last time at his retirement ceremony at the Beirut Memorial site in Jacksonville, N.C., May 11, 2012. With his family by his side, Vanek said farewell to his Marine Corps family of more than 20 years. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Katherine M. Solano)

Photo by Cpl. Katherine M. Solano

‘War hero with a heart of gold,’ Texas Marine retires after more than 20 years

15 May 2012 | Cpl. Katherine M. Solano 2nd Marine Logistics Group

Enthusiastic, respectful, mentor, intuitive, role model and friend are words that cannot begin to describe one combat engineer who retired from the Marine Corps at the Beirut Memorial in Jacksonville, N.C., May 11.

His peers, supervisors and subordinates found no shortage of qualities to list and positive characteristics to highlight when speaking about Master Sgt. Paul Vanek, an engineer with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, before, during and after his retirement ceremony.

The seats were filled, a standing-room only crowd had formed, the band played on, and flags flapped, at times unrestrained, in the strong winds, as if too excited to be still. The air itself held an electric feel, ripe with more than 20 years of love, support, memories and hardships.

Marines, sailors, veterans, civilians, strangers and family alike congregated at the respected memorial site to congratulate Vanek on a career well-served. The tears flowed and there was no shortage of hugs.

Everyone present had a story or a joke to share, each one more unique than the last.

Sgt. Timothy Adamovage, an engineer with 8th ESB, said Vanek always put his own interesting spin on stories himself.

“He always added a grunt at the end, or some off-the-wall noise,” Adamovage said with a laugh as he tried, but admittedly failed, to replicate the nasal sound Vanek is known for among peers.

Getting serious, Adamovage described Vanek in a hushed, almost reverent tone.

“You look at him and just know, that’s a Marine right there,” he began. “That’s a real guy that’s done some things. You could tell even without talking to him; you can just look at him and know that’s a guy you want to be like in the Marine Corps.”

Words like ‘natural leader’ and ‘always honest’ are often used to describe retirees at their respective ceremonies. Phrases like ‘true patriot,’ ‘completely selfless’ and ‘war hero with a heart of gold’ are a little less common, unless you are at Vanek’s ceremony, where all three of those were used by multiple Marines to describe him. There was an influx of unique descriptions of the enthusiastic, unwavering optimist.

“I don’t know many people who have given so many years of their life, and are still willing to give even more for their country and friends and family, and even people he didn’t know,” stated Adamovage.

Subordinates and superiors alike agreed, Vanek is not one to put himself first.

“Marines are known for their toughness, but what makes him different is his unselfishness and his caring for others,” said Capt. Seth Dewey, the operations officer with 8th ESB. “He really does have a heart of gold. Before he’s anything else, before he’s a Marine or a warrior, he’s an outstanding human being. He’s willing to do anything for anybody.”

Dewey described Vanek as a true optimist who always put a positive spin on everything.

“Today is a sad day for the Marine Corps because we are losing a quality individual, but at the same time he’s touched a lot of people so there should be a lot of little Vanek’s running around in the Corps with just a little less rank on their collars,” said Dewey.

Adamovage seems to be one of those ‘little Vaneks,’ even by his own admittance.

“He’s a good role model,” he concluded, as the band began its song and the throngs of people moved to fill the ceremonial area to capacity. “If I was to be anyone in the Marine Corps, I’d be him.”