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Remembering Military Heroes: Brothers Forever

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"Brotherhood. Sacrifice. Love of Country." These were the words of President Barack Obama when he visited the graves of 1st Lt. Travis Manion (1980-2007) and Lt. Brendan Looney (1981-2010) on Memorial Day 2011. The two Annapolis graduates had been roommates, and this pairing formed a lasting relationship and a tight bond of friendship. When both were killed in action three years apart, the families ultimately decided they should be buried side-by-side in Arlington National Cemetery.

Travis, a U.S. Marine, was killed by a sniper's bullet in Fallujah in 2007 when he moved forward to draw fire away from two of his men who had been seriously wounded. Brendan, a Navy SEAL, was killed in a helicopter crash in 2010 on one of his final assignments in Afghanistan before returning home to his wife for a well-earned rest before his next deployment.

Travis's father, Colonel Tom Manion (USMC) Ret. aided by journalist Tom Sileo, wrote Brothers Forever to document the service of these two young warriors and the sacrifices they and their family made in order to serve their country.

What Is It Like to Fight a Modern War?

With today's all-volunteer military, less than 1 percent of the population serve in the Armed Forces. As a result, most of us lack the opportunity for a backyard barbecue conversation or an exchange over the "office water cooler" that might answer "What is it like to fight a modern war?"

What readers of Brothers Forever see from the book is that war becomes very personal to each member of the armed forces once deployed. The men and women sign up for all the reasons that we might guess: love of country, a desire to serve, love of the military, an eagerness for the training and lifestyle, the belief that one would be a great soldier/leader, etc.

But once there, the determination and grit that get them through the brutally hot days and long nights is grounded in the fact that the fight becomes very personal -- it has to.

When Travis was killed, he and his men were going into what they knew was a dangerous section of Fallujah. They had intelligence that the area was harboring a sniper who had been taking out a good number of Americans as well as the Iraqi soldiers being trained by the U.S.

Travis wanted that sniper stopped. His troops were being wounded or killed. When he stepped forward to draw fire away from two of the fallen warriors who were on the mission with him, he was protecting deeply loved friends whom he wanted to see make it out alive.

Brendan, too, stepped into the line of fire on his deployments first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan, with the same motivation: to save those under his command.

Author Tom Manion frequently uses a phrase that Travis was said to have mentioned to his brother-in-law when they were talking about Travis' call to duty: "If not me, then who?"

Both men lived by that code.

And What about the Families?

The other conversation missing at most barbecues and in office lunch rooms is about what happens to the soldiers' families. How do they feel, living for the long-awaited phone call from their loved ones that reassures them their son or daughter is still alive? Waiting for email messages to be answered by those living within a war zone?

One revealing detail concerned Janet Manion, Travis' mother. She always set her watch on the time zone where her son was stationed, making it easier to keep in mind what was going on in his life.

Amy Looney, newly married to Brendan, leaves her job on the East Coast to move across the country to San Diego to be on the base from which her new spouse will deploy. She finds work and does much of the settling in to her new world while Brendan is overseas, but she still takes on the role of helping to ease other wives and girlfriends into a family lifestyle where one's spouse is away for six months at a time or longer.

And of course, no one wants to even imagine that fateful knock on the door by the military man bearing bad news. Janet Manion, at home preparing for the arrival of some friends for an impromptu barbecue, hears the doorbell and leaves the kitchen to welcome additional guests. When she opens the door, she realizes that though one of her husband's military friends has come along to break the news, the true person ringing her doorbell is the young Marine currently assigned to carry the news of a fallen soldier to the family.

Janet slams the door on them three times before collapsing in the hallway. Soon, family and friends who had already arrived for the barbecue drift out onto the front lawn where they are overcome by grief.

Only after Colonel Manion's friend pulls Tom aside and says, "Tom, I know this is the worst possible news. But I have this Marine over here who must give you the official notification. Let's....let him do his job so he can get back to base...."

The young Marine delivered the tragic news and returns to his car totally spent by the sadness of the scene.

Manion Relates the Men's Experience to That of Others

To tie in with college graduation, an event with which far more of us can identify, Tom Manion wrote an opinion piece published in The New York Daily News on May 19, 2014. He talks about character, certainly an important theme of his book.

Travis Manion and Brendan Looney heard the call of their country and felt it was their role to serve in the military.

Applying Travis's words, "If not me, who? If not now, when?, Colonel Manion makes it a call any of us can answer.

He writes: "Who is going to help the old lady across the street? To buy groceries for an ailing neighbor? To take the time to work at a soup kitchen?"

Compelling words and well worth acting on..."If not me, then who? If not now, then when?"

For more information visit their facebook page: Brothers Forever: The Enduring Bond between a Marine and a Navy Seal That Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice.

For more stories of American heroes, visit www.americacomesalive.com

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." John F. Kennedy Jan 20, 1961