The high cost of freedom
By Steven Martinovich
In Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery lie the graves of two soldiers side by side – 1st Lt. Travis L. Manion of the USMC and Lt. (SEAL) Brendan J. Looney of the USN. The two men died over three years apart and in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively. Those facts wouldn't indicate any familiarity between the two – at least outside of the obvious common denominator – but know each other they did. Manion and Looney had a deep and friendship the united the two in excellence and service.
Their story is told in Brothers Forever: The Enduring Bond between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice, written by journalist Tom Sileo and Col. Tom Manion, USMC (Ret.), father of Travis. If it illustrates anything about war it's that we always seem to lose the best of our young men and women, those who in any walk of life would not have only succeeded but set the pace for everyone else.
Travis and Brendan first met when they were paired as roommates at the United States Naval Academy. Brendan was a feared slotback on Navy's football team while Travis was one of the nation's finest collegiate wrestlers. The pair quickly developed a deep friendship thanks to similar values, a fierce determination to be the best at anything they did and a love of a nation that they desired to serve during her war against terrorism.
As Sileo and Manion chronicle, Travis saw combat first after being posted to the nightmare streets of Fallujah. He was a lead from the front officer and bravely led his soldiers into a number of encounters with insurgents, cleaning street after street of their murderous ways. Not content with simply leading in combat, Travis also built connections with the residents and became popular with the Iraqi soldiers who were attached to his unit. Tragically, his life was cut short in 2007 when he was shot and killed by a sniper while attempting to save the lives of several soldiers during an ambush.
At about the same time Brendan, who was serving in the Marines, was preparing to undergo the brutal BUD/S training necessary to embark on a career in the Navy SEALs. Using his friend's life as inspiration, Brendan graduated at the top of his class and eventually joined SEAL Team 3. Posted to Afghanistan, Brendan and his soldiers participated in 58 combat missions in support of NATO missions. In 2010, just before he was due to fly back home to his new wife and after a six month tour of duty, he and several other soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash.
In the hands of lesser writers Brothers Forever could have simply recounted the superlative achievements of these two young men and been a very adequate homage to their lives. Sileo and Manion, however, give as much time to their families and friends to explore how they dealt first with seeing their sons head off to combat and then the tragedy of losing them. There is a human cost to war beyond that paid by the soldiers and given only about 1% of Americans served in Iraq and Afghanistan, meaning most are moved from the true reality of war, we cannot be reminded too often of the price that families endure.
Some will doubtless be tempted to label Brothers Forever a hagiographic exercise co-written by a father still mourning the loss of two men. As pointed out by soldiers in the book, a soldier has to follow an officer's orders; they do not have to attend their funeral. Both men saw staggering turnouts for their individual services, were celebrated by two consecutive presidents and continue to inspire both strangers and friends with the lives they lived. The book is rightly a celebration of Travis and Brendan's warrior spirit but also a quality of life that speaks to the finest of the American spirit.
The tragedy of war is that we tend to lose our finest – the ones who embody an indomitable spirit. Travis and Brendan embodied bravery, love and sacrifice and Brothers Forever is a fitting tribute to them both. Although they lie at rest now, joined together for eternity in sacred ground, they continue to serve as an example to the rest of us. Thanks to the efforts of Sileo and Manion, word of Travis and Brendan's lives will continue to spread even as the wars they sacrificed all for eventually become a part of history.
Buy Brothers Forever at Amazon.com for only $16.43
Steven Martinovich is the founder and editor of Enter Stage Right.