Major Doug Zembiec, the Lion of Fallujah, wrote this letter to the children of one of his Marine brothers who was killed in action, Major Ray J. Mendoza. It tells you everything you need to know about the heart of a Marine.
Dear Kiana and Alek,
Ray and I had a conversation late May in 2004 while we were deployed to Iraq. He spoke of why he fought. He fought to give the people of Iraq a chance. He fought to crush those who would terrorize and enslave others. He fought to protect his fellow Marines.
The last thing he told me that day was, "I don't want any of these people (terrorists) telling my kids how to act, or how to dress. I don't want to worry about the safety of my children." Kiana and Alek, your father fought for many things, but always remember, he fought for you.
As you fight this battle we call life, you will find your challenges greater, your adversity larger, your enemies more numerous. The beautiful thing is, you will grow stronger, smarter, faster, and you will overcome the obstacles in your way.
No one could've better prepared you than your father. In the month and a half your family stayed with me in Laguna Niguel, Calif., while waiting for base housing to open up, I saw how, with the help of your incredible mother, he instilled in you the essentials to life:
- Live with integrity, for without integrity we deceive ourselves, we live in a house of cards.
- Fight for what you believe, for without valor, we lose our freedom.
- Be willing to sacrifice, for anything worthy in life requires sacrifice.
- Be disciplined, for it is discipline that builds the foundation of your success.
You will encounter misguided people in your life who may question America's attempt to help the people of Iraq and the Middle East. These pathetic windbags, who have nothing so sacred in their lives that they would be willing to fight for it, will argue and debate endlessly on what we should've done.
While they criticize, they forget the truth, or conveniently overlook the fact that it takes men and women of action, willing to make a sacrifice, to free the enslaved, to advance the cause of freedom.
Our great nation was built on the shoulders of men like your father. While the nay-sayers and cowards hid in the shadows sniveling that nothing was worth dying for, men like your dad carved our liberty away from the English, freed the slaves and kept the Union together, saved Europe from the Germans twice; rescued the Pacific away from the Japanese, defeated communism, and right now, fight terrorism and plant the seeds of democracy in the Middle East.
Your father was a warrior, but being a warrior is not always about fighting. He was patient with those he led, and he understood people make mistakes. He cared about the men he led as if they were his own family. To him, they were. His work ethic was tremendous. But he made time for his family, to enjoy life. He was balanced, at equilibrium. He was an inspiration. He was my friend.
In your future, when you are pushed against a wall, in a tight spot, outnumbered and seemingly overwhelmed, it may be tempting to give up, or even use the absence of your father as a crutch, as an excuse for failure.
Don't. Your father's passing, while tragic, serves as an endless source of your empowerment. Your father would not want you to wallow in self-pity. I know you will honor him by living your life in the positive example he set. Respect and remember him. Drive on with your lives. Serve something greater than yourself. Enjoy all the good things that life has to offer. That is what he would want.
Kiana! I have never met a more capable young lady in my life. You are the most well-read, articulate, disciplined young person I know. Often I tell people of the arm-bar you demonstrated on me in your parents' garage. When you become a worldwide Judo champion, I will say with great pride, "that woman nearly torqued my shoulder out when she was 11 years old!"
If my daughter grows up with a quarter of the strength of your principles, determination and intelligence, she will be an incredible human being. Like your mother, you are a beautiful woman, a fact of which you should be proud.
Alek! You are blessed with your father's strength of character and his unbreakable will and his broad shoulders. Your mother gave you her determination and unwavering mental toughness.
Your mother told me the story of you hanging up the sign, "Be a leader, not a follower." My eyes well up every time that I think of you doing that. My eyes fill not with tears of sadness, but of pride, to know you grasped the mindset your father passed on to you. This mindset will allow you to be a leader and protector like your father, and one day, to raise an upright, solid-as-a-rock family of your own.
When I look in your eyes, I see your father. Courageous, determined and resolute, your father embodied all that is virtuous in a warrior. Even now, you strive to embody his same character. Remember, there will never be any pressure for you to be exactly like your father. Be your own man, but build your character in his image.
Many people may be concerned about your future because of the early passing of your father. I don't worry at all. Your dad gave you all you ever need to become a great woman and a great man. I know your father would have told you to be your own hero/heroine. Don't wait for someone to rise up and lead you to victory, to your goals. If you do, you might wait for a very long time.
Ray died as a warrior, sword in hand, in service of his country, his comrades and you, his loved ones. His spirit and example give us all hope, reaffirms our faith. Your father reminds us there are men willing to fight for people that they don't even know so that all may live in peace.
I joined the Corps to serve beside men like your father. There is no other Marine I'd rather have protecting my flank in combat than your dad. Even now, as I write this letter in Iraq, I will honor him on the field of battle by slaying as many of our enemies as possible, and fight until our mission is accomplished.
You will always be in our lives. Please stay in touch. We will always be in your corner for assistance, advice or just conversation. Pam and I plan to retire in Idaho and would love for you to visit us so we can take you white-water rafting and mountain climbing.