Everybody dies. It's a fact of life that gives life meaning by creating brevity and with it beauty. Some will die seeking to satisfy their inner child. Others will die trying to quiet inner demons. Still others will die peaceably in their beds after a long happy life. Some will die noble's.
No- I'm not talking of dukes, earls, princesses, queens, or other such garbage. I'm talking about those who die in the course of a noble pursuit. Think of the firefighter running into a burning building to save a stranded child, or the police officer who enters a free fire zone to stop an evil man. Think of the brothers and sisters we lost as we struggled to bring liberty and freedom to a peoples who were once our enemies.
It is these nobles that I though of tonight as I was getting ready to hang with my kids, and watch "Kung Fu Panda," with the anniversary of one of the most noble things I have ever taken part of front and center in my mind, and the cost of that noble deed made even more painfully clear. Sitting with my kids, and thinking of the noble deeds I had been a party to, my fortune was made ever more apparent to me.
There is a quote that hangs amidst a slew of WWI helmets hanging in my stairwell, "Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his brothers." This month, 14 years ago, the brave men of 3/1, 3/5, 2/7 Cav, 1/8, 1/3, and 2/2 Inf put it all on the line not for their brothers- but for a country not their own. Many had been already for months as they did touch and go battle with a nebulous opponent. IED strikes, sniper attacks, mortar raids- these were the commonalities of war in Iraq circa 2004 that the Marines of my battalion (1st Battalion 8th Marines) had to deal with every day.
November 2004 was our chance to deal not with a spectral opponent who refused to show himself, but a determined foe who had done what we had been asking for since we had arrived in country- give us a standup fight. They were still elusive- but there are only so many places to hide in a city. Though we would spend the entire month pacifying the city, the bulk of the assault happened in less than a week. Objectives we expected to take in a week or more were taken in a couple days. Fran was ours just after our collective birthday.
I had the chance to go back, with 2nd Battalion 6th Marines in 2006, and the difference was palpable. We were turning the city back over to the locals. Street lights were being put in place on Fran. Rubble was being cleared. The Mayors Complex where I was witness to the most intense fighting of my life had been turned into a legit government headquarters, and the soccer field I had run across (being trailed by machine gun bullets if my SAW gunner at the time saw things right) had become a motor pool where you could walk around with little fear of getting shot. Buildings that had provided support by fire positions were now outposts, and the mosque my squad spent a week in while we conducted search and destroy patrols was again acting in the manner for which it had been originally designed.
Everything had changed for the better, but that spectral foe was still at it as was evidenced by the murdered corpses of informants (or "informants") that would turn up. Even with the IED, sniper, and few coordinated ambushes that occurred- the Fallujah of 2006 was much quieter than the Fallujah I was first introduced to that chilly November. And still we were doing that noble exercise in delivering freedom and security to our fellow man- our brothers and sisters of different lands.
And so tomorrow, on my second birthday, I will raise a coffee cup of my favorite brew to those brave men who gave up their very lives and the potential futures they could have enjoyed watching "Kung Fu Panda" with their own kids, and give thanks for having been privileged enough to share in their noble pursuit. The memories will always be there, and I will always be able to look back with pride at the deeds of my youth, for not only do I know the terrible cost- but I know the valiant effort that was put forth and carried on the backs of the very best that our nation could give.
It only took me 14 years to truly grasp the meaning of what Gen. Patton was saying, and now that the weight of his words have finally sunk in to the fullest, I shall always and forever attempt to match their meaning with my own noble deeds. It isn't what I can do- it's what I should and must do.
Semper Fi, Marines. Happy Birthday.