Anyone who follows the heoric exploits of the bravest soldiers our military has to offer knows the name Marcus Luttrell. He wrote a book about his harrowing experience in the mountains of Afghanistan in 2005 called "Lone Survivor", and for anyone who hasn't read it, I can't recommend it strongly enough. Although I would almost never otherwise link to the Huffington Post because of its political bent, its story about Patrick Robinson (the author who helped write "Lone Survivor" with Marcus) is simply too good not to link to.
As July 4th approached this year, my thoughts initially turned to the same things most Americans think of on that day: great food, fireworks, family, freedom, and a general sense of pride and patriotism. Beyond those things, something began gnawing at me this year...something that made me want to experience this uniquely American holiday at a deeper level and in a way that wasn't all about me. Late last week, I found out that the Mid-South Tea Party was holding a rally on July 4, 2010, and that Marcus Luttrell would be their keynote speaker. Even though I hadn't really planned on it logistically or financially, I knew I had to go. I should also point out that my wife was kind and understanding enough to let me go. Fortunately for me, she knows that I don't really ask for very many things, and that when I tell her something is important, that it means something to me on the inside, she will generally be cool with me going. It's not something every married man has, so I truly appreciate that about her.
Thinking back to yesterday, it was July in Tennessee, which meant it was ridiculously hot and humid, and the place where the rally was offered little in the way of shade. That didn't really seem to matter to the attendees, and there was a palpable buzz in the air awaiting Marcus's speech, even through the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of the Star Spangled banner by the crowd. After a couple of cold drinks, it was Marcus's time. For anyone who doesn't know the high points of his story, they can be found here, here, and here. Still, there is nothing in the world that can compare hearing it told live by the man himself.
Going into this, I didn't know if Marcus was going to tell pieces of his story, the whole things, or something in between those two. It turns out that I got more than I could ever have hoped for. Not only did he recount the story of Operation Red Wing, he was kind enough to tell us about some of his childohood in Texas and a few of his experiences in Navy SEAL training. Here are the things I remember most from that day: 1.) Despite hundreds of people in attendance, the blazing sun, and over an hour of speaking from Marcus, I could literally have heard a pin drop the entire time. Everyone was absolutely riveted listening to his story...there was no one going to the bathroom, no children crying, no sodas being opened...nothing. The only exception was the occasional click of a camera from someone taking a picture or two.; 2.) Some of the details from the story were absoluely mind boggling: one of his teammates being blinded by gunfire yet still fighting until being overwhelmed by Taliban fighters; another teammate who was shot multiple times but who managed to call in support before he died; despite a broken neck from multiple falls down the mountain, Marcus having the presence of mind to draw maps on his leg to provide U.S. forces with critical intelligence if he made it out alive; and perhaps most incredibly, Marcus's revelation that he wrang out his socks and drank his own sweat and even sometimes drinking his own urine to stave off dehydration during his seven mile crawl to recovery and ultimate safety. 3.) It was evident that this man, this hero, was and is still heartbroken from his mission, and that he suffers from tremendous survivor's guilt. Lt. Michael Murphy (one of the SEALs killed in his operation) was Luttrell's best friend, and it was clear that these men were blood brothers who loved each other. At the end of his speech Marcus choked up as he recounted his promise to himself and to God at the end of his mission that, although there were times he knew death was coming and some that he might welcome it, if he survived, he would tell his story so that his friends would be remembered and never forgotten.
Like the word "love", the phrase "it changed my life" is badly overused these days, but I can safely say this was a life-changing experience for me. In addition to enhancing my already immense respect for our fighting men and women, it gave me a more human perspective on the struggles through which they suffer so that America and its citizens can be free. It was an honor and a privilege for me to hear Marcus Luttrell speak, and he will remain in my thoughts and prayers for as long as I live. God Bless you Marcus, we love you.