November 23, 2010

Four Days Later

On Tuesday, 9 November 2010, 2nd Lt. Robert Kelly, USMC, was killed in Afghanistan. Four days later, his father, Lt. Gen. John Kelly, USMC, gave the following speech. He did not mention his own son's death. He tells the story of two other Marines instead.

This is powerful stuff. Semper Fidelis.


            Nine years ago two of the four
commercial aircraft took off from Boston, Newark, and Washington.  Took off fully loaded with men, women and
children—all innocent, and all soon to die. 
These aircraft were targeted at the World
Trade Towers
in New York, the Pentagon, and likely the
Capitol in Washington, D.C.. 
Three found their mark.  No
American alive old enough to remember will ever forget exactly where they were,
exactly what they were doing, and exactly who they were with at the moment they
watched the aircraft dive into the World Trade Towers on what was, until then,
a beautiful morning in New York City. 
Within the hour 3,000 blameless human beings would be vaporized,
incinerated, or crushed in the most agonizing ways imaginable.  The most wretched among them—over 200—driven
mad by heat, hopelessness, and utter desperation leapt to their deaths from
1,000 feet above Lower Manhattan.  We soon learned hundreds more were murdered
at the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvania
farmer’s field.

            Once the buildings had collapsed and
the immensity of the attack began to register most of us had no idea of what to
do, or where to turn.  As a nation, we
were scared like we had not been scared for generations.  Parents hugged their children to gain as much
as to give comfort.  Strangers embraced
in the streets stunned and crying on one another’s shoulders seeking solace, as
much as to give it.  Instantaneously,
American patriotism soared not “as the last refuge” as our national-cynical
class would say, but in the darkest times Americans seek refuge in family, and
in country, remembering that strong men and women have always stepped forward
to protect the nation when the need was dire—and it was so God awful dire that
day—and remains so today.

was, however, a small segment of America
that made very different choices that day…actions the rest of America stood
in awe of on 9/11 and every day since. 
The first were our firefighters and police, their ranks decimated that
day as they ran towards—not away from—danger and certain death.  They were doing what they’d sworn to
do—“protect and serve”—and went to their graves having fulfilled their sacred
oath.  Then there was you Armed Forces,
and I know I am a little biased in my opinion here, but the best of them are
Marines.  Most wearing the Eagle, Globe
and Anchor today joined the unbroken ranks of American heroes after that
fateful day not for money, or promises of bonuses or travel to exotic liberty
ports, but for one reason and one reason alone; because of the terrible assault
on our way of life by men they knew must be killed and extremist ideology that
must be destroyed.  A plastic flag in
their car window was not their response to the murderous assault on our
country.  No, their response was a
commitment to protect the nation swearing an oath to their God to do so, to
their deaths.  When future generations
ask why America is still free and the heyday of Al Qaeda and their terrorist
allies was counted in days rather than in centuries as the extremists
themselves predicted, our hometown heroes—soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast
Guardsmen, and Marines—can say, “because of me and people like me who risked
all to protect millions who will never know my name.”

            As we sit here right now, we should
not lose sight of the fact that America
is at risk in a way it has never been before. 
Our enemy fights for an ideology based on an irrational hatred of who we
are.  Make no mistake about that no
matter what certain elements of the “chattering class” relentlessly churn
out.  We did not start this fight, and it
will not end until the extremists understand that we as a people will never
lose our faith or our courage.  If they
persist, these terrorists and extremists and the nations that provide them
sanctuary, they must know they will continue to be tracked down and captured or
killed.  America’s civilian and military
protectors both here at home and overseas have for nearly nine years fought
this enemy to a standstill and have never for a second “wondered why.”  They know, and are not afraid.  Their struggle is your struggle.  They hold in disdain those who claim to
support them but not the cause that takes their innocence, their limbs, and
even their lives.  As a democracy—“We the
People”—and that by definition is every one of us—sent them away from home and
hearth to fight our enemies.  We are all
responsible.  I know it doesn’t apply to
those of us here tonight but if anyone thinks you can somehow thank them for
their service, and not support the cause for which they fight—America’s
survival—then they are lying to themselves and rationalizing away something in
their lives, but, more importantly, they are slighting our warriors and mocking
their commitment to the nation.

            Since this generation’s “day of
infamy” the American military has handed our ruthless enemy defeat-after-defeat
but it will go on for years, if not decades, before this curse has been
eradicated.  We have done this by unceasing
pursuit day and night into whatever miserable lair Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and
their allies, might slither into to lay in wait for future opportunities to
strike a blow at freedom.  America’s
warriors have never lost faith in their mission, or doubted the correctness of
their cause.  They face dangers everyday
that their countrymen safe and comfortable this night cannot imagine.  But this has always been the case in all the
wars our military have been sent to fight. 
Not to build empires, or enslave peoples, but to free those held in the
grip of tyrants while at the same time protecting our nation, its citizens, and
our shared values.  And, ladies and
gentlemen, think about this, the only territory we as a people have ever asked
for from any nation we have fought alongside, or against, since our founding,
the entire extent of our overseas empire, as a few hundred acres of land for
the 24 American cemeteries scattered around the globe.  It is in these cemeteries where 220,000 of
our sons and daughters rest in glory for eternity, or are memorialized forever
because their earthly remains are lost forever in the deepest depths of the
oceans, or never recovered from far flung and nameless battlefields.  As a people, we can be proud because billions
across the planet today live free, and billions yet unborn will also enjoy the
same freedom and a chance at prosperity because America sent its sons and daughters
out to fight and die for them, as much as for us.

            Yes, we are at war, and are winning,
but you wouldn’t know it because successes go unreported, and only when
something does go sufficiently or is sufficiently controversial, it is
highlighted by the media elite that then sets up the “know it all” chattering
class to offer their endless criticism. 
These self-proclaimed experts always seem to know better---but have
never themselves been in the arena.  We
are at war and like it or not, that is a fact. 
It is not Bush’s war, and it is not Obama’s war, it is our war and we can’t
run away from it.  Even if we wanted to
surrender, there is no one to surrender to. 
Our enemy is savage, offers absolutely no quarter, and has a single
focus and that is either kill every one of us here at home, or enslave us with
a sick form of extremism that serves no God or purpose that decent men and
women could ever grasp.  St
Louis is as much at risk as is New York
and Washington, D.C.. 
Given the opportunity to do another 9/11, our merciless enemy would do
it today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter. 
If, and most in the know predict that it is only a matter of time, he acquires
nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, these extremists will use these
weapons of mass murder against us without a moment’s hesitation.  These butchers we fight killed more than
3,000 innocents on 9/11.  As horrible as
that death toll was, consider for a moment that the monsters that organized
those strikes against New York and Washington, D.C. killed only 3,000 not
because that was enough to make their sick and demented point, but because he
couldn’t figure out how to kill 30,000, or 300,000, or 30 million of us that
terrible day.  I don’t know why they hate
us, and I don’t care.  We have a saying
in the Marine Corps and that is “no better friend, no worse enemy, than a U.S.
Marine.”  We always hope for the first,
friendship, but are certainly more than ready for the second.  If its death they want, its death they will
get, and the Marines will continue showing them the way to hell if that’s what
will make them happy.

            Because our America hasn’t
been successfully attacked since 9/11 many forget because we want to forget…to
move on.  As Americans we all dream and
hope for peace, but we must be realistic and acknowledge that hope is never an
option or course of action when the stakes are so high.  Others are less realistic or less committed,
or are working their own agendas, and look for way sot blame past presidents or
in some other way to rationalize a way out of this war.  The problem is our enemy is not willing to
let us go.  Regardless of how much we
wish this nightmare would go away, our enemy will stay forever on the offensive
until he hurts us so badly we surrender, or we kill him first.  To him, this is not about our friendship with
Israel, or about territory,
resources, jobs, or economic opportunity in the Middle
East.  No, it is about us as
a people.  About our freedom to worship
any God we please in any way we want.  It
is about the worth of every man, and the worth of every woman, and their
equality in the eyes of God and the law; of how we live our lives with our
families, inside the privacy of our own homes. 
It’s about the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness and “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain inalienable right.” 
As Americans we hold these truths to be self-evident.  He doesn’t. 
We love what we have; he despises who we are.  Our positions can never be reconciled.  He cannot be deterred…only defeated.  Compromise is out of the question.

            It is a fact that our country today
is in a life and death struggle against an evil enemy, but America as a
whole is certainly not at war.  Not as a
country.  Not as a people.  Today, only a tiny fraction—less than a
percent—shoulder the burden of fear and sacrifice, and they shoulder it for the
rest of us.  Their sons and daughters who
serve are men and women of character who continue to believe in this country
enough to put life and limb on the line without qualification, and without
thought of personal gain, and they serve so that the sons and daughters of the
other 99% don’t have to.  No big deal,
though, as Marines have always been “the first to fight” paying in full the
bill that comes with being free…for everyone else.

            The comforting news for every
American is that our men and women in uniform, and every Marine, is as good
today as any in our history.  As good as
what their heroic, under-appreciated, and largely abandoned fathers and uncles
were in Vietnam, and their
grandfathers were in Korea
and World War II.  They have the same
steel in their backs and have made their own mark etching forever places like
Ramadi, Fallujah, and Baghdad, Iraq, and Helmand and Sagin,
Afghanistan that are now
part of the legend and stand just as proudly alongside Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Inchon, Hue City, Khe Sanh, and Ashau Velley, Vietnam.  None of them have every asked what their
country could do for them, but always and with their lives asked what they
could do for America.  While some might
think we have produced yet another generation of materialistic, consumeristic
and self-absorbed young people, those who serve today have broken the mold and
stepped out as real men, and real women, who are already making their own way
in life while protecting ours.  They know
the real strength of a platoon, a battalion, or a country that is not worshiping
at the altar of diversity, but in a melting point that stitches and strengthens
by a sense of shared history, values, customs, hopes and dreams all of which
unifies a people making them stronger, as opposed to an unruly gaggle of
“hyphenated” or “multi-cultural individuals.”

            And what are they like in combat in
this war?  Like Marines have been
throughout our history.  In my three
tours in combat as an infantry officer and commanding general, I never saw one
of them hesitate, or do anything other than lean into the fire and with no
apparent fear of death or injury take the fight to our enemies.  As anyone who has ever experienced combat
knows, when it starts, when the explosions and tracers are everywhere and the calls
for the Corpsman are screamed from the throats of men who know they are
dying—when seconds seem like hours and it all becomes slow motion and fast
forward at the same time—and the only rational act is to stop, get down, save
yourself—they don’t.  When no one would
call them coward for cowering behind a wall or in a hole, slave to the most
basic of all human instincts—survival—none of them do.  It doesn’t matter if it’s an IED, a suicide
bomber, mortar attack, sniper, fighting in the upstairs room of a house, or all
of it at once; they talk, swagger, and, most importantly, fight today in the
same way America’s Marines have since the Tun Tavern.  They also know whose shoulders they stand on,
and they will never shame any Marine living or dead.

            We can also take comfort in the fact
that these young Americans are not born killers, but are good and decent young
men and women who for going on ten years have performed remarkable acts of
bravery and selflessness to a cause they have decided is bigger and more
important than themselves.  Only a few
months ago they were delivering your paper, stocking shelves in the local
grocery store, worshiping in church on Sunday, or playing hockey on local
ice.  Like my own two sons who are
Marines and have fought in Iraq, and today in Sagin, Afghanistan, they are also
the same kids that drove their cars too fast for your liking, and played the
God-awful music of their generation too loud, but have no doubt they are the
finest of their generation.  Like those
who went before them in uniform, we owe them everything.  We owe them our safety.  We owe them our prosperity.  We owe them our freedom.  We owe them our lives.  Any one of them could have done something
more self-serving with their lives as the vast majority of their age group
elected to do after high school and college, but no, they chose to serve
knowing full well a brutal war was in their future.  They did not avoid the basic and cherished
responsibility of a citizen—the defense of country—they welcomed it.  They are the very best this country produces,
and have put every one of us ahead of themselves.  All are heroes for simply stepping forward,
and we as a people owe a debt we can never fully pay.  Their legacy will be of selfless valor, the
country we live in, the way we live our lives, and the freedoms the rest of
their countrymen take for granted.

            Over 5,000 have died thus far in
this war; 8,000 if you include the innocents murdered on 9/11.  They are overwhelmingly working class kids,
the children of cops and firefighters, city and factory workers, school
teachers and small business owners.  With
some exceptions they are from families short on stock portfolios and futures,
but long on love of country and service to the nation.  Just yesterday, too many were lost and a
knock on the door late last night brought their families to their knees in a
grief that will never-ever go away. 
Thousands more have suffered wounds since it all started, but like
anyone who loses life or limb while serving others—including our firefighters
and law enforcement personnel who on 9/11 were the first casualties of this
war—they are not victims as they knew what they were about, and were doing what
they wanted to do.  The chattering class
and all those who doubt America’s
intentions, and resolve, endeavor to make them and their families out to be
victims, but they are wrong.  We who have
served and are serving refuse their sympathy. 
Those of us who have lived in the dirt, sweat and struggle of the arena
are not victims and will have none of that. 
Those with less of a sense of service to the nation never understand it
when men and women of character step forward to look danger and adversity
straight in the eye, refusing to blink, or give ground, even to their own
deaths.  The protected can’t begin to
understand the price paid so they and their families can sleep safe and free at
night.  No, they are not victims, but are
warriors, your warriors, and warriors are never victims regardless of how and
where they fall.  Death, or fear of
death, has no power over them.  Their
paths are paved by sacrifice, sacrifices they gladly make…for you.  They prove themselves everyday on the field
of battle…for you.  They fight in every
corner of the globe…for you.  They live
to fight…for you, and they never rest because there is always another battle to
be won in the defense of America.

            I will leave you with a story about
the kind of people they are…about the quality of the steel in their backs…about
the kind of dedication they bring to our country while they serve in uniform
and forever after as veterans.  Two years
ago when I was the Commander of all U.S. and Iraqi forces, in fact, the 22nd
of April 2008, two Marine infantry battalions, 1/9 “The Walking Dead,” and 2/8
were switching out in Ramadi.  One
battalion in the closing days of their deployment going home very soon, the
other just starting its seven-month combat tour.  Two Marines, Corporal Jonathan Yale and Lance
Corporal Jordan Haerter, 22 and 20 years old respectively, one from each
battalion, were assuming the watch together at the entrance gate of an outpost
that contained a makeshift barracks housing 50 Marines.  The same broken down ramshackle building was
also home to 100 Iraqi police, also my men and our allies in the fight against
the terrorists in Ramadi, a city until recently the most dangerous city on
earth and owned by Al Qaeda.  Yale was a
dirt poor mixed-race kid from Virginia
with a wife and daughter, and a mother and sister who lived with him and he
supported as well.  He did this on a
yearly salary of less than $23,000. 
Haerter, on the other hand, was a middle class white kid from Long
Islaned.  They were from two completely
different worlds.  Had they not joined
the Marines they would never have met each other, or understood that multiple America’s exist
simultaneously depending on one’s race, education level, economic status, and
where you might have been born.  But they
were Marines, combat Marines, forged in the same crucible of Marine training,
and because of this bond they were brothers as close, or closer, than if they
were born of the same woman.

            The mission orders they received
from the sergeant squad leader I am sure went something likfe: “Okay you two
clowns, stand this post and let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles
pass.”  “You clear?”  I am also sure Yale and Haerter then rolled
their eyes and said in unison something like: “Yes Sergeant,” with just enough
attitude that made the point without saying the words, “No kidding sweetheart,
we know what we’re doing.”  They then relieved
two other Marines on watch and took up their post at the entry control point of
Joint Security Station Nasser, in the Sophia section of Ramadi, al Anbar, Iraq.

            A few minutes later a large blue
truck turned down the alley way—perhaps 60-70 yards in length—and sped its way
through the serpentine of concrete jersey walls.  The truck stopped just short of where the two
were posted and detonated, killing them both catastrophically.  Twenty-four brick masonry houses were damaged
or destroyed.  A mosque 100 yards away
collapsed.  The truck’s engine came to
rest two hundred yards away knocking most of a house down before it
stopped.  Our explosive experts reckoned
the blast was made of 2,000 pounds of explosives.  Two died, and because these two young
infantrymen didn’t have it in their DNA to run from danger, they saved 150 of
their Iraqi and American brothers-in-arms.

            When I read the situation report
about the incident a few hours after it happened I called the regimental
commander for details as something about this struck me as different.  Marines dying or being seriously wounded is
commonplace in combat.  We expect Marines
regardless of rank or MOS to stand their ground and do their duty, and even die
in the process, if that is what the mission takes.  But this just seemed different.  The regimental commander had just returned
from the site and he agreed, but reported that there were no American witnesses
to the event—just Iraqi police.  I
figured if there was any chance of finding out what actually happened and then
to decorate the two Marines to acknowledge their bravery, I’d have to do it as
a combat award that requires two eye-witnesses and we figured the bureaucrats
back in Washington
would never buy Iraqi statements.  If it
had any chance at all, it had to come under the signature of a general officer.

            I traveled to Ramadi the next day
and spoke individually to a half-dozen Iraqi police all of whom told the same
story.  The blue truck turned down into
the alley and immediately sped up as it made its way through the
serpentine.  They all said, “We knew
immediately what was going on as soon as the two Marines began firing.”  The Iraqi police then related that some of
them also fired, and then to a man, ran for safety just prior to the explosion.  All survived. 
Many were injured…some seriously. 
One of the Iraqis elaborated and with tears welling up said, “They’d run
like any normal man would to save his life.” 
“What he didn’t know until then,” he said, “and what he learned that
very instant, was that Marines are not normal.” 
Choking past the emotion he said, “Sir, in the name of God no sane man
would have stood there and done what they did.” 
“No sane man.”  “They saved us

            What we didn’t know at the time, and
only learned a couple of days later after I wrote a summary and submitted both
Yale and Haerter for posthumous Navy Crosses, was that one of our security
cameras, damaged initially in the blast, recorded some of the suicide
attack.  It happened exactly as the
Iraqis had described it.  It took exactly
six seconds from when the truck entered the alley until it detonated.

            You can watch the last six seconds
of their young lives.  Putting myself in
their heads I supposed it took about a second for the two Marines to separately
come to the same conclusion about what was going on once the truck came into
their view at the far end of the alley. 
Exactly no time to talk it over, or call the sergeant to ask what they
should do.  Only enough time to take half
an instant and think about what the sergeant told them to do only a few minutes
before: “…let no unauthorized personnel or vehicles pass.”  The two Marines had about five seconds left
to live.

            It took maybe another two seconds
for them to present their weapons, take aim, and open up.  By this time the truck was half-way through
the barriers and gaining speed the whole time. 
Here, the recording shows a number of Iraqi police, some of whom had
fired their AKs, now scattering like the normal and rational men they were—some
running right past the Marines.  They had
three seconds left to live.

            For about two seconds more, the
recording shows the Marines’ weapons firing non-stop…the truck’s windshield
exploding into shards of glass as their rounds take it apart and tore in to the
body of the son-of-a-bitch who is trying to get past them to kill their
brothers—American and Iraqi—bedded down in the barracks totally unaware of the
fact that their lives at that moment depended entirely on two Marines standing
their ground.  If they had been aware,
they would have know they were safe…because two Marines stood between
them and a crazed suicide bomber.  The
recording shows the truck careening to a stop immediately in front of the two
Marines.  In all of the instantaneous
violence Yale and Haerter never hesitated. 
By all reports and by the recording, they never stepped back.  They never even started to step aside.  They never even shifted their weight.  With their feet spread should width apart,
they leaned into the danger, firing as fast as they could work their
weapons.  They had only one second left
to live.

            The truck explodes.  The camera goes blank.  Two young men go to their God.  Six seconds. 
Not enough time to think about their families, their country, their
flag, or about their lives or their deaths, but more than enough time for two
very brave young men to do their duty…into eternity.  That is the kind of people who are on watch
all over the world tonight—for you.

            We Marines believe that God gave America the
greatest gift he could bestow to man while he lived on this earth—freedom.  We also believe he gave us another gift
nearly as precious—our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen, and
Marines—to safeguard that gift and guarantee no force on this earth can every
steal it away.  It has been my distinct
honor to have been with you here today. 
Rest assured our America, this experiment in democracy started over two
centuries ago, will forever remain the “land of the free and home of the brave”
so long as we never run out of tough young Americans who are willing to look
beyond their own self-interest and comfortable lives, and go into the darkest
and most dangerous places on earth to hunt down, and kill, those who would do
us harm.  God Bless America,