It just came eight years later than he had originally intended.
Marchese was a senior in high school outside of Tampa when the Twin Towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. He was in cooking class when news came that two commercial passenger jet airliners had crashed into the World Trade Center and a third was steered into the Pentagon.
A fourth airliner crashed into a rural Pennsylvania field, and it was quickly determined by authorities that terrorists were behind the series of brazen, coordinated attacks that day.
Marchese was so emotionally impacted by the devastation that he made the decision later that day to join the military following graduation, despite potential college opportunities in both baseball and track. Marchese's parents asked him to reconsider but they understood their son's passionate convictions. He also had three uncles who served in the military.
"I felt violated," Marchese told FanHouse.
"It was like something hit me that day and it's what I was destined to do. Like any young guy who played athletics in high school, I wanted to do the same in college. I just felt serving my country was more important and what I needed to do."
'You Could Immediately Tell He Was a Leader'
Marchese, who turns 26 next month, was a reserve catcher at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa this season. He spent most of the season in the bullpen and dugout, warming up pitchers and providing leadership to teammates who were in grade school on 9/11.
Most of Marchese's teammates did not know his background when he joined the team last fall.
They didn't know that Marchese had nearly lost his life on the Kuwait-Iraq border, that a bullet from an AK-47 cracked the body armor across his chest and that a roadside bomb, intentionally covered in trash by the enemy, exploded and disfigured the face of his captain and left Marchese with a serious head injury and landed him in a Germany military hospital.
"I had no idea how old he was or what he went through -- he was just one of the guys," said freshman outfielder David Richardson.
"But you could immediately tell he was a leader. He plays around to a certain extent but he's the type who won't let things get out of hand. He would be like, 'Chill.' When you hear what he has done, it's crazy. You are so thankful for guys like him."
Appropriately nicknamed "Sarge," Marchese is determined to make up for lost time on the baseball field. He's solidly built at 6 feet, 200 pounds. He's always had a strong arm, good hands and quick feet, qualities that caught the attention of veteran Hawks head coach Gary Calhoun. There's no questioning his work ethic and desire to lead.
"Sometimes they (teammates) take things for granted, or maybe they could be doing other things," Marchese said. "There are kids their age overseas, and they don't understand it."
The challenge for Marchese has been recapturing his hitting stroke after being away from the game for so long. Brian DuBose, 38, who played professional baseball from 1990 to 2002 with three different organizations and operates a fitness/baseball training facility in Tampa, is impressed by Marchese's combination of grits and guts.
"I don't know if it's his military background, but he's a brick wall," Dubose said.
"Justin is probably the hardest worker I have ever trained. For Justin to go to war and come back here and pursue baseball, it's a thumb's-up for me."
'I Was Mad at the World and I Wanted to Be a Soldier'
Justin Marchese received his honorable discharge from the Army on March 15, 2004. Yet, his life had been, in a way, ravaged.
"I've been through hell and back," Marchese said.
Marchese was hospitalized in Germany in the spring of 2003, following the road-side bombing that left him with a serious head injury. He has experienced flashbacks and mood swings.
Eating in the chow hall and watching television in Germany, Marchese reacted violently when the broadcast included news of conflicts and death within an armored division he recognized in Iraq. The steel table where Marchese sat was bolted to the floor. Not for long. It went airborne, slamming off the nearby wall.
"I got really pissed off, ripped it off its bolts and threw it across the chow hall," Marchese admitted. "The army was all I knew. I told them that I was fine, that I wanted to go back. I was trained to do one thing, be a solider. That's what I did. I was good at it. I was mad at the world and I wanted to be a solider.
"I still miss it."
Marchese was transferred stateside to Fort Carson, Colo., where his recovery continued. It wasn't easy.
Marchese said questions remained surrounding his diagnosis. He had lost nearly 60 pounds and couldn't sleep at night, spending many hours wandering the hallways. Stacks of forms were filled out and filed with the Army.
In late 2003 Marchese went to Arley, Ala., where his parents, Irene and Michael, had moved from Florida.
Irene and Michael have been married 27 years. They were both raised in New Jersey and on clear nights could see the New York City skyline, including the Twin Towers. Both were accomplished athletes, and Michael was a hard-throwing pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
Naturally, they were thankful to have their oldest of two sons back in their arms -- even on the nights when Marchese repeatedly and unknowingly emptied the silverware drawers, rearranged the canned goods in the pantry or stood outside in the driveway in just his boxer shorts despite the chill.
"I remember how dark his eyes were -- and Justin has the prettiest blue blues -- but they were dark and he asked me what was I talking about it being cold because it was 135 degrees outside," Irene said.
"There were nights where Michael sat in a chair outside of Justin's bedroom. The Army at that time didn't have a lot of policies and procedures in place to deal with these kids coming home from war."
Irene said further testing suggested an untreated concussion that possibly also led to a pituitary gland disorder that has left Marchese with a large, visible non-malignant tumor in his chest. Marchese actually attempted to return to baseball at a nearby junior college while he stayed with his parents, but he was not prepared physically or emotionally.
"It's probably the only time when my mom and dad were scared of me, simply because of not knowing what I might do," Marchese said.
It was agreed that Marchese needed further professional help. Marchese moved to Tampa, where he continues to receive treatment at James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, the busiest of four polytrauma facilities in the nation. Marchese was also a housekeeping aide at the facility, starting in 2007.
"Justin has told me some things that he experienced in war, but it's not something ... I've told him I am always there if he needs me," said his father Michael. "He has been through something that I can't even comprehend or answer for him."
'He Will Do Anything for Anyone'
Jennifer Saxe, 27, a nurse at the Veterans' Hospital, has dated Justin Marchese for nine months.
Saxe was attracted to Marchese's smile, upbeat personality and good looks. While Saxe doesn't know much about baseball, she attended a few HCC games this season and saw enough to know that Marchese, in a way, found peace on the field.
"He's extremely proud of what he did for his country, but I think it (baseball) is close to being the All-American dream for him," Saxe said.
Josh Harrington, 26, a Hillsborough County sheriff and Marchese's roommate, is not surprised by Marchese's return to baseball.
The pair was close friends at Zephyrhills High School, outside of Tampa, where Marchese was also an accomplished runner and received interest from West Point's track and field program.
Harrington, sworn to protect and serve, can't imagine what Marchese experienced in war.
"All I know is the guy cares for people," said Harrington, who also points to his good buddy as an inspiration for others.
"He will do anything for anyone, even if they take advantage of him. There's no way I can even pretend to realize what he's been through. It's one thing about being worried about people shooting at you, and it's another thing for people to be shooting at you every day."
'Baseball Is the Only Thing That Makes Me Happy'
Marchese's freshman baseball season might be over, but he's hopeful his baseball career is just starting.
Marchese plans to fine-tune his game in a local summer league for college-aged players after playing in 10 games or so this season. He understands his professional potential as a player is limited due to his advanced age, but there are plenty of other opportunities in the game. Coaching. Scouting. Teaching.
"Honestly, baseball is the only thing that makes me happy," Marchese said. "Without it, I don't know what I would do."
Polite and personable, Marchese speaks in measured tones. He still experiences flashbacks -- "It's like a picture or a vision," he explained -- but says he has better control of his emotions. He takes anti-depressants for anxiety and medication to help him sleep. Fishing is another favorite pastime.
Although Marchese hasn't remained in contact with any of the soldiers he served with in Iraq, he often thinks of them. Marchese also experienced more heartache with the recent death of an aunt and his grandmother, who lived nearby in Tampa.
The 9/11 attacks had immediate and overwhelming effects on the American people, Marchese included. He's a son. He's a veteran. He's a survivor. And now, finally after all these years, he's a baseball player.
The sport helps define him.
"Justin has come back to be the man we had always hoped and knew he would be," Irene Marchese said.
"I thought I had lost my competitor, to tell you the truth. We fought for him, we stood by him and, yes, it was difficult at times. Justin has come a long way and we are so proud of him.
"Playing baseball is his focus, compass and his dream."