I share today’s post with a somber heart. On February 2nd, 2005, my unit lost our Watch Officer, Captain Sean Brock, and every Memorial Day, I think about the impact his death had on his family, persons I’ve never met.
Today we honor Captain Brock, among our nation’s many fallen, and I will never forget how I felt learning he was wounded and later, when he died as a result of his injuries. I was twenty at the time and as I learned afterwards, he was only twenty-nine. It stung a little bit more to know he was a fraternal twin, like me. I don’t doubt others, especially my peers and superiors working in the command center, have survivor’s guilt like I feel at times. Our base was frequently hit with mortars throughout the duration of my deployment and yet, most of us made it home.
I wrote a letter not too long ago about things I’d like to say to my mother, although she passed away in 2000, and I’ve never “said” anything specific regarding Captain Brock. Should his family ever read these words, I think of their loved one every Memorial Day and the day of his death. There are times throughout the year when I must be reminded of my place and he comes to mind even more. I came home and I owe something back. I was very anxious last night thinking of my recent frustration that companies are offering veteran discounts today. Today is not Veterans’ Day. Today is Memorial Day. Some Americans chose to attend parades or memorial services; I chose to write this letter.
To Captain Brock,
I can write this letter to you now as a civilian. Your death in 2005 transformed my life. I felt like a tourist when I landed in Iraq, and more so before, in Kuwait. At work though, I was not in tourist mode. I didn’t have the time to gaze about the world around us. There was too much to do on day shift with the mission assigned to me, our team, and all our individual contributions wove together a situational picture for the commanding generals. I was (and still am) very proud of this assignment. As a Lance Corporal back then, it’s not like I had the freedom to know you the way other Marines could in the command center.
I don’t know what you thought about our team of enlisted Marines working to your left. Did you find it odd we were a mix of infantry guys stationed with G-3 and Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Defense Marines, like myself? I know I encountered Marines who naturally assumed I was a MAGTF (Marine Air Ground Task Force) Planner.
I wish I could pick your brain about the Army and Navy Liaisons who worked behind my desk. I wish it was easier to remember people from back then. I can only recall the Lieutenant Junior Grade’s first name was Candy and the Army Major gave me a 2nd BCT (Brigade Combat Team) coin. Quite often, it felt strange to be surrounded by so many officers. I wanted to make a good impression on you all and especially make my Master Sergeant proud I was on the team.
I don’t know if you’d find it stunning or embarrassing that I ignored my responsibility to burn items in the burn bin when I kept an article written about your death. (I don’t know who printed it out but I couldn’t let the article disappear; I keep it to this day.)
There was such good insight into your life that the average American would never know about you, as one of our fallen. I didn’t want your death to be another number on our screen. Your life shouldn’t be just a statistic, a number thrown out among numbers when others discuss the merit of war. You were a husband, son, brother, twin brother. As a fellow twin, I cannot imagine the pain your twin goes through each day without you. You chose to be a Marine, but the article revealed most what I love about people–their connections to their families, friends, and communities. I’ve read memorial boards about you as well–you are greatly missed.
My place among the living deprives me of the opportunity to know what you see and understand in death. I don’t know if you watched myself and Corporal Vaughn in our shared responsibility to destroy your cover and holster. I don’t have an answer as to why we were chosen for this sacred task. There wasn’t much blood on your things, but your blood was still there. In burning your possessions, I feel better now about the historical use of funeral pyres and my own decision to be cremated when I die.
There were so many times I tiptoed on this notion of wishing I was there to help you and also being grateful I didn’t witness your wounds. I was ending a phone call with my grandmother when the round landed on base. I was over in my barracks and you were right outside of our work. My grandmother suffered from lung cancer and during the deployment, I found out her cancer was no longer in remission. I have no doubt she heard the round land. It’s the loudest impact I can ever recall. I had a few seconds, maybe 30 or less, where I could put on my game face essentially and keep her fear at bay. I told her the normal things we tell our loved ones–I loved her and I’d try to call again soon and then I had to say goodbye. I had to get back then to the present reality.
I’m currently reading Ashley’s War so I feel safe to tell you I don’t feel I wouldn’t have been helpful because I am a woman and you are a man. I do understand some men feel women have no place in combat zones. I feel like I would have been stunned for a moment if I saw you mortally injured. I sat so close to you day in and day out for months on end, from 10 am to 10 pm until I was switched over to night crew. It was only because my shift was changed that I was not at the operations center when the round landed.
But I knew you were injured before I went into work. And I sat at work looking at the activity report (about you).The activity report shared the same general details like all the others before, but this time, I knew who we lost. We had hellish days before where there’s so much activity and sadly, many losses of life, but watching the night drag on was terrible. I felt like that activity report was taunting me.
I hope someone shared with your wife how wonderful your memorial service was; the Marines who spoke about you cared deeply for you and revealed much about your playful, adventurous side. Once again, I couldn’t know you the way they did because of our ranks. I am grateful though they reminded us all about who you were as an individual.
I am forever thankful our paths crossed, even for that small amount of time. I hope as I continue to forge my own path in life, it is something you admire and see as socially responsible as a representative of the Marine Corps.
Your life will be one I always remember today and I hope in sharing this letter, many other Americans take to heart what today really means.
With the Utmost Respect and Admiration,