Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Raising A Flag and So Much More

I do not know what your Tuesday afternoon looks like, but for a member of the senior class at my high school Alma mater, his calendar is booked solid.  

Brendan O'Brien is seventeen years old.  This afternoon, at or about 12 noon, he shall run from the Wardlaw-Hartridge School on 1295 Inman Avenue in Edison, New Jersey to his home in Sayreville, New Jersey.  It is not - by any acceptable definition of the term - an insignificant undertaking.  The route he shall travel between school and his home covers fifteen miles.  

He runs for two reasons, both of which are extraordinarily important.  

First, he selected today as the day on which to complete his "Raise the Flag" Run because it was seventy-one years ago - on this very date - that the United States Marines raised the American flag atop Mount Suribachi in the Battle of Iwo Jima.   It always make me smile more than just a little when I see a young person with an appreciation for history such as young Brendan possesses.

Notwithstanding the significance attributable to the first reason for which he runs, which is considerable, it pales in comparison as to the second reason's significance.   Young Mr. O'Brien runs today to raise money for the Travis Manion Foundation.  The Foundation is the labor of love of the family of a fallen Marine, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, who was killed in action in Al Anbar Province in Iraq on April 29, 2007.  In death, 1st Lt. Manion managed to draw enemy fire away from the other members of his patrol, which enabled every member of his patrol to survive.  The United States Marine Corps awarded 1st Lt. Manion the Silver Star and the Bronze Star with Valor.  At the time of his death, 1st Lt. Manion was slightly more than six months shy of his twenty-seventh birthday.

The Travis Manion Foundation is dedicated to assisting this nation's veterans upon their return home and to assisting the families of those men and women who were killed in action.   It is a Foundation whose central organizing precept is five simple and incredibly powerful words, which words are the ones that 1st Lt. Manion uttered aloud immediately prior to leaving for his second, final tour of duty in Iraq.  They are five words to which young Brendan O'Brien adheres and they form a question to which he most assuredly knows the answer...

If Not Me, Then Who... 

It was Emerson who wrote, "So nigh is grandeur to our dust, so near to God is Man, when Duty whispers low, 'Thou must', the Youth replies, 'I can'."   While Emerson's life ended long before Brendan O'Brien's began, doubt not for a second the youth of whom Emerson wrote: 

The 17-year-old who has spent five months studying issues that veterans face upon their return to civilian life for a Capstone research seminar, is running to raise awareness and money for men and women who have served our country.

"I recognize that five months isn't a heck of a lot of time to study an issue, but it was more than enough time for me to learn statistics that are beyond disturbing," he said. "The rate of suicide, unemployment and homelessness among men and women who served in recent years is appalling; I think it is appalling that these brave men and women are not helped more upon their return to civilian life," he added.

This morning, shortly before noon, if you find yourself in the neighborhood of 1295 Inman Avenue in Edison, pause a moment and raise a hand in appreciation for a young man whose fifteen-mile journey shall commence with a police escort as well as under the watchful, loving eye of his mother, Linda, who is, herself, a graduate of the Wardlaw-Hartridge School and a classmate of my sister Kara (Class of '81).  If you want to contribute to this extraordinary young man's effort to raise funds and awareness for this nation's veterans and their families, you may make your contribution here.  

Well done, young Mr. O'Brien...

...and long may you run.


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