Last Friday, Osbrany Montes De Oca, a lance corporal in the United States Marines, set out to begin his patrol in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. As he was walking out of his base, his girlfriend said, he was ambushed by Taliban forces who shot and killed the 20 year old mortarman from New Jersey.
Lance Cpl. Montes De Oca was barely through his first year in service to his country when he made the ultimate sacrifice. But this young man's passion for his country is the stuff from which legends are made. Born in the Dominican Republic, he left behind a beautiful young girlfriend--"the love of my life" he called her--to enlist in the greatest volunteer force the world has ever known on a mission to bring stability to a country still suffering the ravages of Islamist fanaticism.
His patriotism was shared by his twin brother, Osmany. The Star-Ledger reported that the brothers joined the Marine Corps after graduating high school, telling family members that they wanted to serve their country and fight those who would harm it. The twins' commitment to service was so great that it actually rubbed off on their older brother, Sandro, who followed the lead of his kid brothers and enlisted as well.
America lost one of its best and brightest on that Friday in Afghanistan. But you'd hardly know it from following the news. Why? Because on Saturday another child of New Jersey, Whitney Houston, died.
Houston was born into a successful family that one might even call privileged. Her father (a former serviceman) was an entertainment executive. Her aunt was Dionne Warwick. Her godmother, Aretha Franklin. Houston grew to become one of the most awarded entertainers in history -- and one of its biggest failures. Watching the last decade and a half of Houston's life was tantamount to watching a car crash. Watching her husband's reality show, Being Bobby Brown, was like rubbernecking from the couch. Houston went from being a beautiful young singer and actress to a drug-addled mess. She was a mockery of her former self.
So when she died on Saturday, the word "tragedy" was thrown around like penny candy. By the following Tuesday morning, a google search of the terms "Whitney Houston" and "tragedy" resulted in 148 million hits.
Meanwhile, a search for the term "Osbrany Montes De Oca" resulted in under 800 hits. As a Marine, that probably would be fine with Lance Cpl. Montes De Oca. He'd see himself as part of a unit, as a member of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. And that's exactly what makes him a hero.
But no one mentioned Lance Cpl. Montes De Oca during the Grammys. There was no moment of silence or prayers for him. While CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all broke from their regularly-scheduled programming to deliver non-stop coverage of the singer's death, barely a word was said about the soldier's. The love and adulation and respect were all offered to Whitney Houston.
Maybe we as a nation ought to spend more time being grateful for people like him, instead of paying incessant tribute to yet another dead celebrity.