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Left to right, Sgt. Maj. Cortez L. Brown, Maj. Jonathan W. Landers, Gunnery Sgt. Isaac M. Ishak, Pfc. Gavin G. Northcutt, Marty Northcutt, Tori Northcutt, Col. Jeffrey C. Smitherman, Staff Sgt. Brian D. Raney, Capt. Kyle R. Kuhn, retired Master Sgt. Bud Schell, Capt. Asia Pastor, Gunnery Sgt. Nathan D. Mitchaner, Staff Sgt. Jon P. Slayton, Sgt. Maj. Rena M. Bruno and Staff Sgt. James B. Benham stand with Hunter A. Northcutt’s Honorary Marine award at Pelham Elementary School, Pelham, Tennessee, June 13, 2018. Only the Commandant of the Marine Corps can officially designate an individual as an “Honorary Marine” to acknowledge extraordinary contributions to the Marine Corps. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mandaline Castillo)

Photo by Sgt. Mandaline Hatch

Hunter Northcutt’s Fighting Spirit Against Cancer; Earns Title Honorary Marine

20 Jun 2018 | Sgt. Mandaline Hatch 6th Marine Corps District

Few are able to earn the title, “United States Marine.” To be a Marine, one must embody “the fighting spirit” to win battles. Hunter A. Northcutt was a 15-year-old boy who exemplified this fighting spirt. His commitment, determination and dedication to one day earn the title was unwavering. The only obstacle that stood in his way was Acute Myeloid Leukemia, but unfortunately, this was a battle lost. 

On September 18, 2017, Hunter’s terminal leukemia ended his life before he could stand on the yellow footprints, march across the parade deck and graduate Marine Corps Recruit Training. He never lived to serve in the Corps, but now, in death, he bears the title of “Marine.” Hunter posthumously earned the title “Honorary Marine” during a ceremony at Pelham Elementary School, Pelham, Tennessee, on June 13, 2018. 

“During his fight against cancer, he constantly said that he would become a Marine no matter what,” said Darla Hill, Hunter’s aunt. “He had his dream come true, he is definitely smiling down upon us knowing he is a Marine.”

Col. Jeffrey C. Smitherman, 6th Marine Corps District Commanding Officer, presented the title on behalf of Gen. Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the Marine Corps. Hunter A. Northcutt’s father, Marty Northcutt, and sister, Tori Northcutt, received the award in Hunter’s honor. 

“We have a motto in the Marine Corps, Semper Fidelis, always be faithful, and we live by a creed of honor, courage and commitment,” said Smitherman. “Those things took hold in [Hunter] early on, he knew that he wanted to be a Marine, he knew that was what he believed in and those are the ideals that he accepted. He lived for those ideals.”

The Honorary Marine title recognizes individuals in the civilian community who have made extraordinary contributions to the Marine Corps that clearly surpasses the norm. It is a revered designation that affords a special distinction to those who earn it. Therefore, only the Commandant of the Marine Corps can officially designate an individual as an “Honorary Marine”. 

Prior to his death, Marine Corps Recruiting Station (RS) Nashville submitted a request while he was admitted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center during his last few weeks to live. Unfortunately, he took a sudden turn for the worst and passed away before the request could be endorsed up the entire chain of command. 

Maj. Jonathan Landers, the RS Nashville Commanding Officer, sent up another nomination posthumously to Smitherman, who endorsed it, and then it received its second endorsement from Brig. Gen Austin E. Renforth, the Commanding General of Eastern Recruiting Region. 

“I put out smoke until somebody saw it,” said Benham, the local Marine Corps recruiter. “I didn't realize how few and far between Honorary Marines were.”

Hunter was distinguished Honorary Marine posthumously by the Commandant of the Marine Corps for embodying the Marine core values of honor, courage and commitment. He is one of less than 120 people to receive the title since its inception in 1992. This title recognizes Hunter for distinguishing himself through noteworthy service and support of the Marine Corps.

“We hope that this title of Honorary Marine will give the Northcutt family a level of solace and comfort knowing that Hunter Northcutt will forever and always be referred to as a United States Marine,” said Staff Sgt. Brain D. Raney, the local Marine Corps recruiting substation commander.

Hunter was in line to carry on the family tradition of being a United States Marine. This tradition began with his Great Grandfather, World War II Veteran Master Sgt. Dominic R. Clark (1939-1945), who was then followed by his uncles, Vietnam War Veteran Cpl. Martin Davidson (1967-1969) and Officer Candidate Kurt Glick (1980-1984), and his cousin Ret. Lt. Col. Daniel L. Bates (1994-2014). This tradition continues today through his cousins Cpl. Caleb Davidson (2015-present) and Pfc. Gavin G. Northcutt (2017-present). He wanted to step up and do his part like the rest of his family had. 

“[Hunter’s family] built its lineage and heritage with a lot of blood, sweat, and sacrifice, and those stories carried on through the Northcutt family,” said Smitherman. 

Hunter’s uncle Martin Davidson gave him his Purple Heart, and his cousin Caleb Davidson gave Hunter his National Defense Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal when he was diagnosed with cancer. Hunter’s cousin Gavin Northcutt had just shipped to Marine Corps recruit training when Hunter was diagnosed with cancer. He was on his way home when Hunter passed away. 

Prior to his diagnosis, he was an avid fisherman, basketball player and honor roll student. 

“The first time I met Hunter, he was wearing a Marine Corps hat and shirt,” said Benham. “The Maine Corps is all he ever talked about, it’s something he wanted to do all his life.” 

Hunter was first diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma in August 2016. He went into remission in late July 2017 and then a few weeks later he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. 

“That pushed him harder and made him more humble as a person,” said Darla. “He carried on the Marine values during his battle and fought through the end and never gave up.”

During Hunter’s cancer treatments, he shifted his attention from himself and displayed the fighting spirit of a Marine by helping and inspiring other patients. 

“Hunter always had a smile on his face no matter what he was faced with for the day,” said Darla. “He always cared about others and making sure they were okay before he thought about himself.” 

His ethical and moral behavior had qualities of maturity, dedication, and dependability. His courage carried him through a challenge that no child should have to face.

“Every time I saw him I could see how much heart he had and how motivated he was,” said Benham. “He still had that smile on his face, you couldn't stop him from doing anything.”

Further proof of how important the Marine Corps was to Hunter came at his funeral. He was buried in a Marine Corps casket and he has the Marine Corps Emblem on his headstone. 

“Our family is at peace knowing that Hunter's dream was fulfilled,” said Darla. “He was an amazing son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend to all.” Hunter Northcutt will forever and always be referred to as a United States Marine.

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