The Cheap Seats

"Actors? Schmucks. Screenwriters? Schmucks with Underwoods." -- Jack Warner (Warner Brothers Studios)

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Location: Near the City of Angels, Southern California, United States

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Hourglass

Your Buddies will die. That Marines is a fact. But it’s how you carry their deaths - honor their deaths - that matter. You must always be worthy.”
- Gen.
Alexander Vandegrift (1944)
18th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps

 It has taken me years to allow myself to think about this in any depth. For that matter, to even dwell on it to any level.

Decades ago now, as most of you know, I lost my Best Friend in a pile of rubble in a far away aired land that most have forgotten. Many never knew of it at all. It happen when a blast from a package van ripped through the makeshift barracks he was billeted in. When the collapse had stopped and the dust literally had cleared, the building at 33 degrees 49 minutes, 45 seconds North by 35 degrees 29 minutes, 41 seconds East was gone. So were 220 United States Marines, 18 Sailors and 3 American Soldiers.

 It was the single deadliest day in Marine Corps history since Iwo Jima. It was also the first know terrorist attack against the United States.

There are 115 American Service Men who survived the blast. Many with catastrophic wounds. They are the living reminder of a forgotten attempt to bring stability to a troubled region. A scare that the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines still carriers to this day.

I of course am reminded every day. Remind of what was, what is, and what might have been. The last one being the hardest of all.

We generally walk through our lives and for the most part give no real thought to death and loss. We all lose Parents and other older Loved Ones and even in sadness, we understand that is the expectation. We might lose others to accidents and unforeseen misfortune. But armed conflicts leave us with a toll that often tops the meter in the tens of thousands. And while expected, it is still no easier because of what may be senseless loss to poor ideas, bad leadership and total lack of control. To a very large degree, the events of 23-October-1983 fall into this category. Death that could have been prevented. Even in a combat zone.

But setting politics aside my thoughts often travel to darker musings. The visuals that take over my head like a movie invading a theater screen. Smelling the fuel oil left from the manufactured bomb. The discomfort of debris and the dead around you. Thoughts of pain and suffering. Of labored breathing and last breaths. Of missing limbs and watching the life giving blood draining from your body. Hearing the death bell ringing in your head and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Your last thoughts, last memories, the last deals you make with God.

I wonder if the blast from the explosive killed my Friend instantly. Or did he suffer as his Brothers – without any concern for their own safety – dug through what was once a tourist hotel looking to save others. Did he linger in great pain as he lay dying, or did God spare him?

I imagine if others were around him, mortally wounded and in their own unbearable pain, he tried to motivate them. Tried to keep them fighting for their lives and demanding that they not give up. I imagine if able and aware, he was scrambling to find a service weapon. Any weapon that might help him get back in the fight even if he were unable to move. I can imagine these things because this is the type of Man he was. He was a Marines, Marine.

These are the two sides of the same coin. These are events that may have happened. This is what might have been then.

What might have been now however, is him enjoying his Family. His Children, his Grandchildren, his Beautiful Wife. But that will always be what might have been.

His Family understands and accepts his death as another sacrifice on a long list of those before and after him. A list that is still added to as conflict in the region continues. But as time marches on and the days get further apart, memories fade. People become forgotten. Bravery is dismissed.

I will never know what the final moments of Corporal Anthony Brown’s life were like. But I was there 28 hours after it came. I was nearby. I saw the dark black bag that held what was once one of the best Men I have ever known. I was able to touch him one last time through the cold plastic and say a prayer for him. He was not alone. In death, he was surrounded by the spirits of those who had fallen with him. In life, he was surrounded by his Brothers who would now take care of him.

This is of course the nature of war. Those who sign up for it know the possibilities. We know what the outcome may be. But death and dying is never that easy. Even to people who have made a gruesome art out of it. And the pain of what was, what is now, and what might have been never goes away.


But I find a very strange sense of peace knowing that he, and all the thousands of Marines that now guard the gates of heaven, guard us too. And I for one know little will harm me. The watch is secure.

My view from the Cheap Seats