Memorial Day 2013

Today, we pause to memorial those that have gone before us and sacrificed their lives in the name of the freedoms that we each enjoy today. Three remembrances from amongst the thousands that will be shared today:

First, former Navy SEAL officer Leif Babin writing in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Combat is hard. It is alarmingly violent, ear-shattering, dirty, exhausting and ugly. It is marked by chaos and confusion and self-doubt. But combat also highlights the determination and sacrifice—and courage—of those who persevere. Through such times, an unbreakable bond is formed with brothers-in-arms.

Those bonds were tested greatly as our task unit suffered the first SEAL casualties of the Iraq War: Marc Lee and Mike Monsoor. Later, Ryan Job died of wounds received in combat. These men were three of the most talented and capable SEALs I have known. They were also loyal friends. Their loss is deeply personal to their families and to their SEAL teammates. As Marc’s and Ryan’s platoon commander, I bear the crushing burden of responsibility. I will forever wish that I could somehow take their place.

As a result, Memorial Day is deeply personal—to me, as it is to any veteran, to any military family. It is a time of mixed emotion: solemn reflection and mourning, honor and admiration for those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.

Yesterday, the LA Times reran their seminal piece from 2004 entitled The Unapologetic Warrior about Marine Corps Major Doug Zembiec, later dubbed “The Lion of Fallujah” for his heroic leadership of his men in that fight:

Anyone who prefers that their military officers follow the media-enforced ideal of being diffident, silent about their feelings, unwilling to talk about their combat experience and troubled by the violence of their chosen profession should skip this story.

Marine Corps Capt. Douglas Zembiec is none of these things.

Zembiec, an All-American wrestler and 1995 graduate of the Naval Academy, is the charismatic commander of Echo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division. During the monthlong battle in Iraq earlier this year for the Sunni Triangle city of Fallouja, no combat unit did more fighting and bleeding than Echo Company, and during it all–from the opening assault to the final retreat ordered by the White House–Zembiec led from the front. He took on the most dangerous missions himself, was wounded by shrapnel, repeatedly dared the enemy to attack his Marines, then wrote heartfelt letters to the families of those who were killed in combat, and won the respect of his troops and his bosses.

It was the time of his life, he acknowledged later, for by his own definition Zembiec is a warrior, and a joyful one. He is neither bellicose nor apologetic: War means killing, and killing means winning. War and killing are not only necessary on occasion, they’re also noble. “From day one, I’ve told [my troops] that killing is not wrong if it’s for a purpose, if it’s to keep your nation free or to protect your buddy,” he said. “One of the most noble things you can do is kill the enemy.”

Major Zembiec was killed in Iraq on a following deployment. His death did not go unnoticed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who remembered Major Zembiec in a speech that same year. Owen West also remembered him in a WSJ column after his death.

A fitting end, borrowed from the good Captain LeFon, who we also remember this Memorial Day.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

–Laurence Binyon