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Family of Fallen Marine Remain Always Faithful

Marine Master Sergeant Evans sent this article.  I'll post the whole piece in case it gets removed from the news site. 

It focuses on the Morels, a couple that lost their son, Marine Captain Brent Morel, in Iraq last year and what they are doing to help America, the Marines, and honor Brent's memory.

It's a long, but very, very good article.  And it features a friend of, Tim Chavez, who knows the Morels.

Parents of slain Marine find hope in reaching out to others

By: KATHY DAY - Staff Writer

Molly Morel says she's searching for a way to keep her son with her. Her husband, Mike, works each day to do the same ---- and they both try to find ways to honor him and the others who gave their lives in Iraq.

On April 7, it will have been a year since their son, Brent, a 27-year-old Marine captain from Camp Pendleton's 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, Bravo Company, was killed in action near Fallujah. Brent was shot twice when his convoy of Humvees was ambushed, as he was the first off the vehicles, but he was able to shoot several Iraqi rebels before succumbing, witnesses report.

Since the Iraq war began exactly two years ago today, parents of 1,511 troops and the country have had to learn how to live with what Abraham Lincoln once called "so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom." This week, the lessons touched the parents and family of Army Spc. Wade Twyman, a 27-year-old former Vista resident who was killed March 4 when a bomb exploded while he was on patrol near Ar Ramadi. He was buried Tuesday at Riverside National Cemetery.

And while there are days when both Mike and Molly Morel of Martin, Tenn., still cry, those days are further apart than they used to be, and they're not always the "big boo-hoos" they used to have, Mike said recently.

"Brent was a good kid," he said, recalling the redheaded son who chose to be a Marine officer while attending the University of Tennessee. "Of course, he had his moments like any teenager ... we found out about some of the things later."

Chuckling between stories about smoke bombs Brent and his friends had launched in a local mall and one about him mowing yards and raking leaves to earn money to buy a bike, Mike occasionally swallowed hard. "I have to get this apple down out of my throat ... give me a minute ... " he said.

The father and son were hunting buddies, a memory that Mike enjoys but one which gave him great pause in the wee hours of April 8 when two Marines arrived on his doorstep.

"Hunting was something we loved to do," the father said. "He went to sniper school and got to be a better shot."

The Marines delivering the sad message that dark morning told Molly and Mike that a sniper had fired at him from about 3 meters and hit him under the armpit where there was no armor. Brent was conscious when his men arrived to evacuate him but died on the scene.

"I knew people got killed by snipers ... I saw Brent, like a deer walking through the woods. That was my first impression," he said. "This year I didn't hunt at all. That impression just nailed me."

Mike and Molly Morel both work at Volunteer Community Hospital in Martin, Tenn., and not surprisingly, they have found some solace in helping others get through the days after their children were killed in Iraq.

Both 53, they have been married for 33 years. They're involved with Marine Parents United, a support group for parents of Marines around the country ( Closer to their home, they're involved with Tennessee Marine Families, a group collecting supplies to send to troops still serving in Iraq.

When Brent was there, Mike and Molly sent toys and toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children because Brent once told them that "the camels have better teeth than these kids."

Mike says it helps to stay busy, which he does in part by writing letters to the families of fallen Marines, knowing that a kind word or small bit of advice may help a family through the pain. All of them are now Gold Star families, tagged with an American Legion label they never wished for that is given to parents of soldiers, sailors and Marines killed in military service.

In Tennessee alone, there have been 30 troops killed, 12 of them Marines, Mike said. Almost 300 U.S. servicemen and women who were based in California have died in the war, 224 of whom were stationed at Camp Pendleton or Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

One father Mike wrote to asked him for advice on where to bury his son ---- near home or at Arlington National Cemetery.

"I told him Brent and I had talked about that. I've been around death for 30something years," said Mike, a certified nurse anesthetist. "You have to."

The Morels had been to Arlington when Brent was alive, he told the Marine's father. "Brent said, 'If you bury me in Arlington, I want Tennessee dirt first.' "

Instead, he was buried at the National Cemetery in Memphis, close enough to home that Molly and Mike, their daughter Marcy Morel Woods and Brent's widow, Amy, can visit. Today Mike visits about once a month, usually around the 7th.

It's also a place where Brent volunteered, helping with funerals for area veterans after he had joined the Marines and was attending college.

"I never knew that (until after he died)," Mike added. "He had that much respect. He was a Marine's Marine."

The other father chose to bury his son near home too.

Writing the letters is hard for Molly, he said, but she likes talking to the mothers while Mike talks to the dads.

But Molly acknowledged, "It sets me back hearing their pain."

And while she rejoices when units "come home with their health, there's a little jealousy," she said. "It changed our lives ... there are constant reminders."

She said it especially bothers her when people use phrases like "I could just die ... or I could kill him."

It's also hard for her watching their daughter trying to cope with her grief. The kids were "like oil and water, as different as night and day," she said.

"Where Brent was good with his money, Marcy spends it as fast as she makes it," Molly said. "It's been a hard adjustment for her. She's much more fragile emotionally and is still having trouble sleeping."

Perhaps the hardest part for Marcy is that she's felt the focus has all "been on Amy and us," Molly said. "She feels that she's been overlooked, that her grief has been minimized."

She "lost her big brother, who would always be there for her, and she for him," Molly wrote in an e-mail.

Brent's wife, Amy, is doing better, Mike said. She's bought a new house and moved in with the "granddogs" and her sister and challenged herself to get in shape to run the Marine Corps marathon.

At Brent's funeral, the family shared a gut-wrenching video of scenes from his life and some shot by a combat photographer with Brent's unit, including footage of that awful day of combat.

Tim Chavez, a columnist with The Tennesseean, the Morels' hometown newspaper, wrote that "it recounts the heroics of (Brent Morel), who stopped an insurgent ambush of his convoy by charging over an open field with five other Marines behind him ... He saved every Marine life that day, except his own."

Chavez, who is taking that DVD to speaking engagements around Tennessee, is helping the family keep Brent's memory alive, calling it "my honor to amplify (Mike's) voice."

As he's watched them over the past months, Chavez said he's come to know Mike as a "hard charger ... who wants to make sure his son's sacrifice is remembered for something good" and who is likely in the future to take an even more active role in standing up for the memory of the fallen Marines.

Molly, on the other hand, by choice is more in the background. "She is feeling everything so intensely," Chavez said. "When the time is ready she will be able to offer incredible solace and insight to other Gold Star families."

"Bonded as they are, as husband and wife, mother and father, now they are bonded in grief," Chavez said.

In the days after Brent's death on April 7 and his April 15 funeral, Mike said he "never got mad at God." There were times, though, when he "got mad at the people that killed him. I don't understand how they don't want to be free ... It doesn't make any sense."

Sometimes, still, he said, he asks why. "Then I think that my faith has been increased ... and I think that I'm going to be good because there ain't no way I'm gonna go to hell ... I'm gonna see my son."

Experiencing his son's death changed his outlook on a lot of things, Mike said, and made him more impatient. "I don't tolerate fools ... but I know I can't be hurt any worse unless my wife or my granddaughter or my daughter was killed."

He stands up for the war in Iraq, acknowledging that "some mistakes were made, there wasn't enough planning ... but that man (Saddam) and his sons killed a lot of innocent people." And while he'll confront naysayers, he said, he always tells them he "respects their right to think that way ... but I tell them, heaven help you if they ever get here."

He has met Donald Rumsfeld and defended him in print and on the air when stories surfaced about letters to families of those killed were signed by a machine and not by the secretary of defense himself. He and Molly visited Camp Pendleton in January when President Bush spoke to the Marines. The president also spent one-on-one time with the Morels and about 40 other families who were invited by the Marine Corps to be there for the private gathering that followed the public ceremony. President Bush even had one of his staff members write an explanation on presidential letterhead explaining why their granddaughter was missing school that day ---- which Bush signed when she asked him to.

"Meeting President Bush gave us some healing. He didn't have to be there," Molly said. "His sympathy and caring really helped us all."

Mike said they're just now starting to have some fun again, tackling the remodel of the house they bought after Brent was killed. Even so, he said he'll never get over his son's death. "Every night when I go to bed, I think of him," Mike said.

"The day the fog lifted was the day his headstone went up," he said. He last went to the cemetery Jan. 7 ---- a day with both snow and rain. He walked to Brent's row ---- there had been 13 rows of military graves added since his burial.

"Never in my dreams since he was born did I imagine seeing my son's name on a headstone," he said, voice quivering. "I heard Brent say, 'Dad, it's raining, it's cold. You idiot, go home, get out of here.' "

That was the day, he said, "I got over the hump."

After a deep breath, he added, "I'm lucky. I got to see him in his casket. ... Many parents don't get to see their sons again after they send them off to Iraq."

Molly's thoughts

What has Brent's death meant to me? The end of half of my dreams for the future. The loss of those redheaded grandchildren that I knew would come. Not being able to watch Brent be the great father that we knew he would be. Knowing that Amy has lost the love of her life and is struggling with her grief. Our daughter, Marcy, lost her big brother, who would always be there for her, and she for him. Heartache that never goes away. Pride in the man he became. Sadness that I couldn't be there to hold him in those last minutes, but pride that he lived a life of honor and died with honor and courage. I miss him every single day.

Last Veterans Day, we attended a service in Memphis, and the families in the area who had lost loved ones in Iraq were guests of honor. I was introduced to a woman who was there with her mother. Her brother had been killed in Vietnam in the '60s. This little frail mother has probably attended services honoring men like her son all these decades. I thought at the time that if I lived long enough, that would be me. For the rest of my life, I will try to honor Brent and all the brave men and women who sacrificed everything for freedom.

---- from an e-mail to the North County Times

The Morels suggest that people who want to show their support for the troops think about some of the following gestures:

  • Do something as simple as saying "Thank you" when you see a Marine, sailor or soldier on the street.
  • Fly your flag in their honor.
  • Contribute to activities like Toys for Tots.
  • Contribute to scholarships in honor of those who have been killed in action.

    Here are a few:

    North County Honor Campaign (760) 385-4921

    Contact staff writer Kathy Day at (760) 740-5417 or
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