While leading a patrol on a well-known supply route in Iraq from Fallujah to Ramadi, Marine Tony Wan spotted a slight disturbance on the path.
Following his training to question his suspicions, he drove closer.
When he realized it was an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) it was too late, and before he could turn back and finish yelling “I-E-D” to his comrades, his Humvee exploded.
Wan, now a 25-year-old resident of Fresh Meadows, survived the explosion with a minor concussion. In fact, it was the second explosion he’d survive while on tour in 2006.
During a later expedition Wan’s company lost two men, one his best friend, and today he wears a bracelet to commemorate them.
“It reminds me of the sacrifice that Marines like them make,” he said of the memento.
The veteran returned home after a second tour and enrolled at York College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY), in 2009.
Fast forward three years, and when York College hosted its 42nd commencement exercise for its largest graduating class on June 1, Wan was the valedictorian with a 3.99 GPA, standing out among the sea of 1,000 caps and gowns.
He was the first member of his family to earn a college degree.
For Wan, who majored in chemistry, the graduation marked a turnaround in his life.
Years earlier, he was struggling to graduate from Benjamin Cardozo High School. Ironically, he “failed chemistry three times,” and had to make up classes.
He voluntarily enlisted in the Marine Corps, because he realized his parents couldn’t afford to send both him and his brother to college.
However, he said the military was a positive experience, which enhanced his personality.
“Through the military I learned discipline and perseverance,” he said, which were the driving forces behind his return to the classroom.
With certificate in hand, he aims for a new goal — to go to medical school so he can help other veterans.