The boot camp photo always captures the blue magic. Look into the stern gaze of a newly-minted Marine and you’ll sense the long and illustrious history of the Corps.
One look at Staff Sgt. Patrick R. Dolphin’s color photograph all but screams “Semper Fi,” always faithful, to the very end.
Yet, the 29-year-old who died Sunday in Afghanistan was a quiet-spoken young man, according to his cousin, Mike, who called “Corbett” yesterday to share a little something he believes should be remembered. “Pat” was the kind of person you’d be proud to have you son or daughter grow up to be, Mike said
Northeastern Pennsylvania now prepares to accept the remains of yet another young warrior who did his job and died in the process. We await Dolphin’s remains with tears, screams of grief and stern looks of commitment to living the legacy he left behind. We muster the courage to put to rest our latest local legend.
Some of their names come easily to mind.
Others stick with me as well.
Michelangelo Mora, dead at 19, 2004.
I attended their funerals when I lived and worked in California.
Menusa died in 2003. I visited his home. But I have to reluctantly admit that at this moment I forget his first name. I remember his wife, Stacy. And their little boy, Joshua, running around the kitchen in tiny cammie fatigues, dragging his cereal bowl and looking just like daddy in the pictures.
I can close my eyes and see Menusa’s headstone, located just a few feet from where they buried Heredia, who died at 22 in Iraq.
Heredia’s 23-year-old brother, who was a shy 16 when I last talked with him about his brother, is shipping out Thursday for Afghanistan.
Monica Diaz, their mother, said in a newspaper article yesterday that she hopes God spares her, that the challenge of wondering what might happens drills anxiety deep into her heart.
When her Marine died, Monica drove me around the places in Santa Maria, California where his life took root and blossomed. From the house where a man battered her bloody and young Joe came to her defense to the places he played as a child and walked with friends as a teenager. She wanted me to see something of his life even though he was gone forever.
We ended the tour at his grave, where she cried hysterically, screaming “What did I do wrong, what did I do wrong?”
“Nothing,” I said. “You did everything right.”
Now I remember Menusa’s first name.
His name was Joe and he was 33 when he died in Iraq.
Stacy grew to oppose the war in Iraq and voted for John Kerry for president. Monica Diaz stood by her son’s grave and pointed to the horizon where developers were building new homes in a pricey development where city officials had named a street after her son.
Monica said she dreamed of buying a house there, on the street named after her child. But I doubt that she did. I doubt that even now, with the real estate collapse, that she could afford a house named after her baby.
I stood on that street one day, looking at Heredia’s name and the Purple Heart emblazoned into the metal street sign. Then I went to the office and asked where the street was located. Nobody knew. Nobody had heard of the street. Nobody knew anything about the young man who died a violent death in Iraq. Nobody. Then the crisp, clean business agents went back to selling real estate.
Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds. Nor does time necessarily refresh our memories. Unless we want to remember, we will forget. Please don’t forget.
Please remember. Always remember. And if you do forget, at least try to remind yourself why they died, who they were and what their death means to this big land. Then move out, live life and make your little piece of this nation a better place for tomorrow.
Refuse to allow the increasingly self-absorbed American loss of consciousness to become business as usual.