I get a lot of email from friends in Iraq. While this one is difficult, it is very important for everyone to read.
It was a bad day yesterday in Ramadi. I have attempted to put my thoughts into words below and into the attachment, but have likely failed in conveying the raw emotion we are all feeling right now. Please disseminate to all and I will write again as time permits.
Brother in Arms
May 3, 2006
I lost a brother today. Marine Corps Captain Brian S. Letendre died in a well coordinated insurgent attack conducted against one of our strongpoints here in Ramadi, Iraq.
A U.S. soldier was also killed and another fellow Marine was wounded in the same assault. As a police officer and Marine, I've experienced death before, but this one hit especially hard. Brian and I are part of an eleven-man team assigned as advisors to an Iraqi infantry battalion here in Ramadi. I was on the three vehicle gun truck convoy that took him to the strongpoint where he was to begin operations with one of the Iraqi battalion's infantry companies. Prior to leaving Brian at the strongpoint, I shook his hand and told him to keep his head down. Brian laughed and said he had to, "because I owed him." Brian was a college wrestler and managed to pin me the last time we practiced ground fighting. It was our running joke that I would one day return the favor. Brian will never grapple again. Nor will he be there to see his three-year-old son, Dillon, wrestle or play his favorite sport, soccer.
In the hours following Brian's death, my emotions have run the spectrum. This evening, we went to the morgue on the local American base to retrieve Brian's body for the "angel flight" home. Servicemen in combat don't have the luxury of attending funerals of fallen comrades. The next best thing is to honor them as pallbearers from the morgue or ambulance to the helicopter in which their journey back to the states will begin.
In the morgue, I was able to spend a few minutes alone with Brian. I fought the tears but they too won their battle this night. As I held his head in my hands, I felt rage toward God and hatred toward Iraqis that I was unable to dispel. Standing up, I walked into the next room where Marines and soldiers were waiting quietly to carry Brian's body to the helicopter. I walked to the back of the room, the anger still seething. I stopped. There on the wall hung two flags, one American, one Iraqi. I paused. In addition to the American casualties, an Iraqi soldier was killed and several others were wounded during the day's battle. I glanced to my right. There, standing next to me was one of our Iraqi translators, mourning for Brian with tears streaming down his face. My hatred and rage melted away.
I reflected. This wasn't about Americans and Iraqis. This was about a noble man dying for a cause he believed in. I don't care about the reasons this war began, I cannot change the mistakes that have been made in its prosecution, and I have little stomach for the negative banter about the war that goes on back home in the U.S. In my simple way of thinking, we are allowing the Iraqi people the opportunity to experience freedoms they would otherwise never know. On an individual human level, life does not get much more meaningful than that. I put my arm around my interpreter's shoulder and pointed at the two flags. I looked into his eyes as tears welled yet again in mine. "We are brothers," I stated softly. His gaze met mine. He nodded and replied, "yes, brothers."
Hours later as we walked solemnly and silently to the helicopter landing zone in the early morning darkness, the Muslim call to prayer soulfully sounded throughout Ramadi. To my ears, it was a song of tranquility. This day, as all days, the sun will rise with the hope of peace. No matter the bitterness in how the day may end, it is that hope of peace in the dawn that gives life its precious meaning.
Sergeant, La Habra Police Department
Chief Warrant Officer, United States Marine Corps Reserve
p.s. My advisor team is putting together a scholarship fund for Brian's son Dillon. If anyone finds it in their heart to contribute, I request that the La Habra Police Association Board open an account on my behalf to collect the donations. Our team will be opening the scholarship fund and transferring all monetary donations to it when we return from Iraq at the end of this year. If you think it is appropriate, feel free to disseminate this e-mail to other agencies and service organizations. I offer heartfelt appreciation to all of you in advance.
Godspeed, Captain Letendre, godspeed.