FAIRFIELD, Ohio -- When Joe Isaacs joined the Army, his uncle promised his mother that he would make it home in one piece.
"He's why I joined the Army in the first place," Isaacs said Thursday. "I kind of had somebody to look up to, to guide me and protect me."
Isaacs became a specialist to uncle Ricky McGinnis' first sergeant, and the pair traveled together to Miqdadiyah, Iraq, in 2006. There, they continued to share a close, familial bond. It wasn't unusual for Isaacs to call McGinnis and invite him to dinner.
What was unusual was the day he didn't receive an answer.
"They said he was on patrol," Isaacs said. "About 10 to 15 minutes later, it came across the radio that someone from his troop was hit by an IED, and they pulled me out of the room."
McGinnis died that day. Months later, on Memorial Day 2007, Isaacs would lose another group of his close friends to an ambush attack. Their helicopter went down during a rescue mission, he said.
Isaacs isn't in the Army anymore. As coach of the XBA Thunder youth baseball team in Fairfield, he's traded his patrol cap and fatigues for a baseball cap and athletic shorts.
However, he wants to use the lessons he learned in the military to provide his players with the same mentorship McGinnis once provided him.
"There's a lot of parallels (between baseball and the armed forces) when you talk about the teamwork and how you have to back each other up on the field," he said.
And he wants to make sure the children he coaches understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by American troops. That's why, on Memorial Day, they'll be playing in jerseys with the names of Isaacs' fallen comrades on the back.
Before he handed them out, Isaacs asked them if they knew what Memorial Day meant. Hands shot up.
"First kid I called on, Gavin, he nailed it," he said. "I think his words were, ‘It's for the guys that helped us in the Army and didn't make it back.'"