Father honors son who died aboard USS Fitzgerald

The words that leaked from Darrold Martin’s lips pulled at the heartstrings of CNN’s Brooke Baldwin — and her audience.

“He’s my son, he’s a hero in my eyes … he was my best friend,” Martin said.

The emotional exchange came as Martin attempted to do the near unthinkable — put his feelings and thoughts into words just one day after he received his dead son’s remains.

Xavier Martin, Darrold’s only child, was one of the seven Navy sailors killed when their warship, the USS Fitzgerald, collided with a merchant vessel in the waters off Japan’s Izu Peninsula.

One missed call

Thirty-six minutes after the collision, 24-year-old Martin tried to reach his father.

“The way we communicated was with WhatsApp,” Martin said, referring to the instant-messaging service. Martin could tell from his phone that his son had tried to reach him — likely as water was rushing into the stricken ship. No connection was made. Martin is not sorry about that.

“I would think any parent would never want to hear the last recording of their children, or their child perishing, so thank God I wasn’t able to hear that,” he said. “I tried to block out the visualization that my son is perishing and and he’s crying and screaming and I’m, you know, dad. It’s pretty hard to imagine.”

Connected from birth

Joining Baldwin live from his home in Halethorpe, Maryland, where he’d raised Xavier as a single father, Martin fought back tears and dripped with pride as he remembered his son.

“When he was born, I cut the cord. I held him before his mother did,” recalled Martin. “He was, what? Fifteen minutes old … I leaned over and I whispered to him, ‘I would never leave you.'”

From that moment, the Martins were connected.

“I realize it was just a body response,” Martin said, continuing with a story still fresh after nearly a quarter of a century. “With his right hand, he grabbed the tip of my right pinky, and the bond was there.”

‘We’ll figure it out’

This Spring, the pair got matching tattoos, beginning with Xavier, who first consulted his father over the design. “He actually sent me the fonts … he was trying to decide which font he was gonna use.”

Having decided on the text, the younger Martin chose his left wrist as the spot for his tattoo. A month later, Darrold Martin inked the same phrase on his forearm, a move that surprised his son.

“He said ‘really? ’cause I know how much you hate needles,'” he recalled.

“I sent him a picture of it and he said ‘I can not believe you did that. I am so proud of you.'”

The phrase in the tattoo the father and son shared was “we will figure it out.”

Martin said his son would always come to him to share the commonplace needs of childhood, like new tennis shoes, or a ride to an event. “I’m pretty sure every parent says that: ‘Look we’ll figure it out.'”

It may have felt routine at the time, but to a young Xavier Martin, those words brought comfort. “I didn’t realize that until later on when he told me …’it just gave me a sense of calmness knowing that my dad had me.'”