MARBLEHEAD — Most parents don’t expect their child to grow up to be a congressman. If Thomas and Lynn Moulton don’t look all that surprised that son Seth was elected in the 6th Congressional District on Tuesday, it’s probably because he’s surprised them before.

That was when he took his Phillips Andover and Harvard education and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. To this day, the couple is uncertain where that came from. He never showed an affinity for the military growing up in Marblehead, Lynn Moulton said. Nor did his parents see much interest in politics. After attending Glover Elementary School, “he ran for class treasurer in middle school. And lost,” she said.

The candidate credits the influence of Harvard theologian Peter Gomes, who spoke of sacrifice for others, as the inspiration for joining the Marines shortly before the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. He picked the Marines, his mother said, “because it’s harder.” Later, in Iraq, he saw the blunders firsthand, which pointed him toward politics.

Yet, the road to Washington started in Marblehead, a town with a long patriotic history and where military service is valued especially. Lynn Moulton isn’t sure if any of that influenced her son. But she remembers Seth’s deployment to Iraq.

“We were terrified. It was the experience of watching a war unfold on television, with no delay,” she said.

Sometime, they saw the pictures and wondered if Seth was there. Other times, they had spoken to him on the phone and knew he was there. 

“We put a candle in the window,” Thomas Moulton said. It was one of those electric candles that usually go up at Christmastime. When a neighbor asked about the candle, the Moultons explained that they didn’t intend to take it down until Seth had safely returned.

“Later, we came home,” his mother said with some emotion, “and there was a candle in the window at almost every house in the neighborhood. ... That’s how people found out that Seth was in Iraq.”

Thomas Moulton is retired after a career in real estate law, while Lynn still works five days a week in the records department at Massachusetts General Hospital. Thomas’ family moved from Swampscott to Marblehead in 1960. He met Lynn, a Rhode Island native, while both were attending Brown University in 1974. The Moultons’ two other children, Cyrus and Eliza, work as a newspaper reporter and a history teacher at Norwood High School, respectively. 

Lynn Moulton was an opponent of the Vietnam War during her years at Brown, but she said, “Who wasn’t an opponent of the war at the time?” While the couple remains un-enrolled politically, she believes that they’ve generally embraced the same ideas promoted by their son’s Democratic Party.

Once Seth Moulton made the decision to challenge veteran Congressman John Tierney, his hometown rallied around him. “His kindergarten teacher was out holding signs for him,” his mother said. Moulton lawn signs line the couple’s street. 

Selectman Harry Christensen, a Marine veteran who fought in Vietnam, became a supporter. He noted proudly that Moulton won the Bronze Star with a V for valor and compares the new congressman to Marbleheader Duncan Sleigh, another Marine with a promising education, who won the Navy Cross and whose promise was lost when he was killed in Vietnam. 

“Seth is cut from the same cloth,” Christensen said. “He’s one of the most excellent human beings I ever met.”

Another selectman, an enthusiastic Judy Jacobi, was even seen on some of Moulton’s TV commercials, according to his parents. 

Perhaps the numbers tell the story better than words. On election night, a relatively good night for the GOP, Moulton dominated his hometown, with Marbleheaders giving him 6,377 votes to his Republican opponent’s 2,831.

“Our neighbors have been very supportive,” Lynn Moulton said. “I think they’re excited. A lot of people here have known Seth since he was a child.”

After leaving the military, he was seen as a potential force politically, his father said. He could have gone anywhere but settled on a Salem residence. Even so, “He was very proud of Marblehead. And if he was going to run anywhere, it was going to be this area,” he said.

“Marblehead was a great town to grow up in,” Lynn said.

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