Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Tribute to Fallen Brothers 

The following is reported to have been passed on by Michael Weiner after his son, who is a team member of the SEALS recently lost in Afghanistan, reflected on their loss.

Subject: fallen brothers

Most of you heard of the CH-47 helicopter that was shot down over the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan on June 28th. Onboard were eight Navy SEALs, in addition to the crew of the special forces helicopter, "The Nightstalkers". All were answering the call of a 4-man SEAL element engaged in a gunfight with the Taliban. All soldiers onboard the helicopter perished. Three out of the four on the ground lost their lives, while one narrowly escaped. Eleven SEALS dead. It was the worst loss of life in a single day over the last four d ecades for Naval Special Warfare. These are the details that come across the news wire.

I'd like to share a few words with you on a more personal note. Five of those SEALs were teammates, friends, and brothers of mine at SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team ONE in Hawaii. Dan Healy, James Suh, Shane Patton, Matt Axelson, and Michael Murphy.

Senior Chief Dan Healy was a resident SDV guru among other things. Everyone loved his Irish personality. I went to him many times for help, and he always took time out of his day to show me the right way to do things. He was a true professional, never taking any shortcuts to save time. He was a family man more than anything else. As friend Dave Bauer put it, "if I were to point to a guy I wanted my son to be like, I would point to Dan and say, be like that guy son"

Petty Officer 2nd Class James Suh was the ultimate perfectionist, spending hours playing with hi s gear. James and I were in the same stick of five guys going through free fall school last September. As it took me three attempts to pass our last graded jump, James was the first guy on the ground to help me re-pack my parachute and offer words of encouragement. In what little time James had away from training, he moved his father out to Hawaii to help take care of him. James had his priorities right.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Shane Patton? you can't help but start laughing when speaking of Shane as a result of his flamboyant personality. I first met Shane in BUD/s. There were many young guys to start first phase, but he was the only 18 year-old on the other side of Hell Week. Shane and I went through all phases of our training and checked into SDVT-1 together. We were neighbors in Panama City during SDV school. Shane had that special charisma about him, oozing of confidence. He was a fri end to everyone, and he was always true to his word. As Shane would say, "Tee-Rue". Never once did I see him get mad, a sense of humor about everything! The youngest of the group, Shane was 22.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Matt Axelson or "Cool-Hand Luke" as his platoon-mates referred to him. A very calm guy, Matt kept true to the SEAL motto, "a quiet professional". All the guys looked up to Matt and sought his insight on most everything. A sage of many sorts, Matt had creative solutions to everything. Matt was the last guy recovered on July 10th. Up to that point, his platoon expressed that they were fully expecting a call from him, saying, "hey guys, bring me some more ammunition, I've found a cave and I'm having fun out here".

Lieutenant Michael Murphy or "Murph," the Fiery Irishman from New York. Murph moved fast. He was the most selfless guy I've ever met, and he kept himself on a busy agenda to help as many people as he could. I met Murph back in April 2003 when I checked in. Our work at the team kept us around each other a lot. Though a peer in age and rank, I looked up to him a great deal. His strong sense of character, sound moral and ethical standards, toughness in the face of adversity, and good sense of humor throughout it all were the qualities Mike displayed on a daily basis. Murph was a family-man, caring fiancé, great friend, concerned citizen, warrior, admired by those who knew him, and inspiring to those who were close to him.

Those thoughts are just a snapshot, and obviously do not do justice to adequately describe who these men were to their family and friends.

I had the honor and privilege to attend Shane's funeral in Boulder City, Nevada on July 9th, as well as Murph's funeral in Long Island, New York on July 13th. Both were extremely well done and I am grateful and thankful for those responsible.

These men did not die in vain. The four guys on the ground, severely outnumbered, fought and killed numerous Taliban. The guys on the helicopter were aware of the situation and acted without hesitation in an attempt to save their buddies. The question that pains every American during a time of war all the sudden takes new meaning to me "Is war worth the cost of American life?" As a pallbearer walking Murph down the isle in his hometown Church, painfully hearing each person we passed by break down into tears, the feeling of sadness and loss was never more real to me. As I stood at attention and watched our SEAL Admiral present the Silver Star,
Purple Heart and American Flag to Murph's mother, speaking the words, "On behalf of a grateful nation, we are sorry," total helplessness overwhelmed me.

To their family and friends, an unbearable feeling of loss, and to a nation, an equally great loss. For these men, already Great Americans were to go on and be contributing citizens for a better society, a better future. They were the men that would champion a cause to benefit the greater good. Individuals like that cannot be replaced. They are extremely rare, and America is worse off without them. So how can this be worth it? In my humble opinion, there is no rationale way to justify their sacrifice. To me, the loss of Dan, James, Shane, Matt, and Murph is a painful exchange for the gains that come from this war, but at the end of the day, there is bigger problem that this war plays a critical role in, there is still a bill to pay. That bill takes into account your great education, your childhood sports team, your peaceful neighborhood, your first car, your first road-trip through the Appalachian Mountains, Great State of Texas, Rocky Mountains, & Grand Canyon, every Bud-Light at every barbeque, and most importantly, your ability to choose whatever you want to do or say.

That bill is the price of our freedom, and while I am still trying to understand all of this, four words remain. Freedom is not free.