Most of what I write here is written because I enjoy expressing myself in the medium of words. And I think that sometimes, the things I write might be worth the time spent reading them.
This is not one of those times.
I’m writing this now because it’s important that these words exist, whether anyone reads them or not. They are memories that I have of those who are no longer with us. Men I served with. Men who deserve to have some part of them live on long after they’re gone. We honor them by sharing what parts of themselves they left with us. We are the sum of the impacts of the people we encounter. This is the best I can do to pay them back.
I didn’t know Scotty well. We spent a few months together in Africa 15 years ago. He was one of the SEALs that was a part of the detachment in which I served. Mostly his job was to go with me into places no one could find on a map on whatever vehicle we could use to get there and make sure that if anything went sideways, someone more tactically effective than myself could get us out. Jet Ski’s, zodiacs, RIB boats, whatever we could find, I spent hours on end with Scotty.
He was quiet and diminutive. He was just a kid when we worked together. So was I. After a few weeks of talking to mostly old men and their families on rickety fishing boats and ancient harbor landings, with Scotty fully jocked up, body armor, ballistic helmet and long gun, Scotty looked at me one day and said, “LT this if fuckin stupid. I’m scaring these people to death”. Then he took off his gear and put his rifle under the deck of our boat. And for the rest of the time we worked differently.
Scotty was killed Syria last year by a suicide bomber. He was there as a civilian attached to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Shelly was one of the SEALs that relieved the group Scotty was with. He was a dead ringer for Johnny from The Karate Kid. He came off as a typical SoCal surfer with wavy blonde hair and lay back affect. He wasn’t from SoCal though. He was a kid from outside Philly, just like me, and he came to life when you got him talking about Philly sports. We killed hours burning through the great Eagles teams of the 80’s and the miserable “Steve Jeltz” Phillies.
As a non-SEAL in leadership positions where SEALs were involved, I always needed a few frog men that were ok with serving with and sometimes reporting to an “other than SEAL” officer. Without that support, the whole thing would fall apart. It didn’t take long for most to see that I knew my job and I wouldn’t try to do theirs or do something stupid and get us all killed, but at the beginning, someone in the group had to trust me and model that trust for the others. Shelly was one of those guys.
I saw him in the admin detachment office in Coronado 2005. He gave me a big bear hug and knocked my cover off. That was the last time I saw him.
He was killed in a dive training accident in May of 2009.
Seth was in my Plebe Summer company at Annapolis. The first time I saw him we were lined up outside our rooms in the hallway in our bathrobes just before lights out. One of the detailers asked a question we were supposed to know the answer to and some tall, rangy kid with a freshly shorn head stuck out his fist and answered in an outrageous booming voice and Texas twang that made the detailer laugh.
We weren’t best of friends but we got to know each other the way you do when you spend four years together at Annapolis. He was like a big kid, usually cheerful and upbeat, often deflecting questions he didn’t feel like answering and skipping deep conversation. He always seemed to be playing some sort of caricature of himself. He played dumb. He wasn’t. He would do things just to see how you reacted. Mostly he just liked to make people laugh. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone. Everyone liked Seth.
After we graduated, he went into the SEAL Teams. He was a platoon commander in the Battle of Ramadi with Task Unit Bruiser and the only member of my class to be awarded the Silver Star. I ran into him sometime after Ramadi at a high school track meet my wife was coaching. He was there mentoring someone. He wore his khaki uniform with his big gold trident and silver star on display. We talked for a bit. He was different. The caricature was gone, worn off by war and life and whatever had passed since we were kids together. It was just Seth. We made a promise to get together sometime. We never did.
Seth was killed in a skydiving accident in 2017.
Jeremy was my friend. We spent four years together at Annapolis and much of the summer after we graduated before he went off to the Basic School to become a Marine Corps officer. He loved the Red Sox and was the best Rugby player I’d ever seen play in person. We had a running joke that that he was a taller, more athletic, better looking version of me. A girl we both dated briefly once told me that if she’d known about him, she would have skipped me all together. She was only half joking. And I didn’t care. Jeremy was the kind of guy that it was hard to be jealous of. He did everything better than everyone and still came off as likable.
He became a Force Recon marine and served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
A mutual friend of mine ran into him in DC a little while after his last pump down range. He said Jeremy was running a little hot. He didn’t really seem like himself; like the off switch was broken.
He shot me a Facebook message in January of 2011 letting me know he’d be out in San Diego soon. And that we should get together. We didn’t.
Jeremy was killed in a BASE jumping accident in July of that year.
I leave these memories here so that one day someone, somewhere will read them and know these men a little better. They are more than their headstones and the documented actions they took in war. They were flesh and blood. Sons. Brothers. Friends.
Today our task is to remember them.