Whenever U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Jason Barfield called his parents from Afghanistan, he had the same message.
"We'd ask him how things were going over there and he'd say 'every day is a good day,'" Lance Cpl. Barfield's father, Ray Barfield, told me. "He truly lived that motto."
As a young boy growing up in Alabama, Jason embraced each day with a fervor that took even his mother by surprise.
"I used to have to watch him in stores because he would just talk to everyone," Kelli Barfield said. "He never had a fear of being in front of others he never had a fear of people."
From a young age, Jason was guided by the compassion he felt for others. After a close friend's mother was murdered when Jason was in third grade, he started raising funds to help the child's family.
"He loved everybody," Kelli said.
Upon graduating from high school in Ashford, Ala., Jason knew he wanted to join the military. After eventually choosing the Marine Corps, the young recruit pledged to do everything in his power to defend America.
"He said 'I want to be a part of the best I want to make a difference,'" Jason's mom said. "From that day forward, he never looked back."
In September 2011 -- ten years after the 9/11 attacks -- Jason would deploy to Afghanistan for the first time. But before he left, his dad sat him down for what Ray called "the talk." While the topic of discussion was unthinkable, Ray asked his son to share his final wishes.
"We started talking about it a little before I said 'Jason, I can't talk about this anymore you're coming back,'" Ray said.
Unfazed, Jason wrote down instructions for his funeral and gave the piece of paper to his dad.
"Jason was like an old soul in a young body," his father said.
The night before deploying, Jason's roommate heard him crying.
"They all just assumed he was nervous about the deployment," Kelli said. "But when (Jason's roommate) got to the room, it had nothing to with him being scared about being over there."
Jason wasn't worried about himself.
"He was nervous about making a mistake and getting one of his guys killed," Jason's mom said. "It wasn't all about him it was about keeping the others safe."
In Afghanistan, Jason displayed the same concern for others that his mom first noticed when he was younger.
"He wanted to boost everyone's morale," Kelli said. "He even started learning the language so he could barter with the Afghanis for food for his (fellow Marines)."
In the early morning hours of Oct. 23, 2011, Jason called home.
"I just want you to know how much I love you, mom," the Marine said.
"Dad, I just want to give you a big old hug," Jason also said. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I just want you to know."
The next day, the Marine's devastated father reached into his wallet and retrieved the list of his son's final wishes. After embracing every day for 22 years, Jason's life had ended with an ultimate sacrifice.
According to the Pentagon, Lance Cpl. Jason Barfield was killed in Afghanistan's Helmand Province on Oct. 24, 2011. The fallen Marine's parents said Jason alerted his platoon to a potential threat before unknowingly kneeling on top of an improvised explosive device. While Jason died instantly, everyone else on the patrol survived.
When Ray and Kelli later met the seven brave Marines who served with Jason during his final moments, they shared a singular message.
"If it had not been for his actions that morning, they would not be alive today," Jason's grieving father said.
On what would have been his 24th birthday, Jason was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star with Valor. But more important than any medal, his parents said, is the legacy their son left behind for his 12-year-old sister.
"Never forget who you are," Kelli tells her daughter. "Strive each day to be a better person."
Every day is a good day. If we strive to follow the example of Lance Cpl. Jason Barfield, each day will be even better.
Tom Sileo, Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA, 90045.