Today I heard through facebook that a man I served with in Delta Battery was killed in Iraq back in October of 2004.
John A. Pinsonneault was a "civilian contractor" when he was killed in the Green Zone of Baghdad. From what I can piece together, it seems he had finished lunch with members of his security team and they were leaving the dining hall when a suicide bomber detonated next to them, killing John and three others. He was 39 years old. When we served together in Delta Battery, I just called him P.
We had served together for a few years and when my enlistment was up, he did the paperwork and talked to me about re-enlisting. I remember the conversation vividly, and have thought about it often. What if I had re-upped? Where would I be now and what would be different? I had decided to let my enlistment run out because I wanted to explore new avenues of what life had to offer. Jason and I had released our first album and were going on tour with it. I had broken up with girlfriends because I did not want to commit while I was in the USMC and could be called up to go to war if there was one. I wanted to be committed to being the best FDC I could. When I left the Marines, I felt it was time to commit to seeing if a woman would actually want to spend her life with me and have kids and such.
When P asked me one last time if I would reconsider, I paused for almost a full minute. Because I loved being a Marine. I loved the unit I was with and the men and women I served with. It was hard to leave behind. But I had been thinking about it for the better part of my last year in, and stuck by my choice to end my Marine Corps career. I told him that joining the Marines had saved my life. I had grown up a great deal and learned that if I argued for my limitations, I would have them. But if I set my mind to something and hit it with Marine Corps intensity, well, then I could do almost anything. I signed the papers and he shook my hand and said, "Well, Shaf dog..." (This is pronounced "Shayeef - dog" and was a nickname given me by Sgt Slickers - Slick - who gave about everybody their nicknames.) "Well, Shaf dog... We're going to miss you. You're a good Marine and a good man."
Then he smiled at me and said,
"Good luck with everything in the future, John. You can do anything you put your mind to... Marine."
It was a brief conversation, but memorable to me because of the "what if's" I've considered over the years.
I turned 40 less than a week ago. P will eternally be 39. It is hard for me to get my head around his death. Because it happened almost seven years ago. Because so much has happened in that time. Because in those youthful days as a Marine, we were immortal and untouchable. Confident in our ability to improvise, adapt and overcome in any situation. Those days, a decade or two back, still seem fresh in my mind. The faces of my brother Marines will always be youthful and immortal in my mind, even though I grow older. And while I suspect he will not be the last of my Marine brothers I will not see again in this lifetime, he is the first I have lost. I lost the opportunity to reconnect. To thank him for the time we served together. I grieve that loss.
This news also brings the war closer to home for me. Don't get me wrong. I fly my flags every day for those who are serving and those who won't come home. We had a local Marine funeral at our church a time ago, and it was hard for me to see. Though I knew him not at all, we were still joined by the common bond of the Corps, and his loss got to me a little.
But I knew P. I laughed with him and worked with him. We trained for war together. Broke bread together. Celebrated more than a few USMC birthdays together. And while we were not best friends, I considered him one of my "Marine Corps Buddies".
I lost touch with the Marines I served with after I got out. Facebook has provided an opportunity to reconnect with many of them, though only passively. They all have their lives and their close friends. I occasionally chat with them through FB. Comment on a status or "like" something. But I suspect if I stopped those interactions, their lives would continue with nary a blip on their radar. Just as I've lived the last seven years without the faintest notion that P was dead.
But once, long ago-but not too long ago, we all served together in a Marine artillery unit, as a band of brothers. There is a bond there that even I don't understand at times. The common bond of service, good times and bad times, training to fight and kill and win and serve. It's a strange phenomenon. But there exists a brotherhood of Marines. I believe if any of them contacted me with a request, I would go to the ends of the earth to fulfill it for them.
And so, though I had not talked to P more than a half dozen times after I was out, and was not even aware of his death now six and a half years past, I grieve as if I had seen him only last week. Both of us in our cammies, shooting the poo as Marines are wont to do. I am in shock at his death, and my heart is just a little broken for his family and for the loss of my Marine brother.
It sucks, because I can hear P telling me to just get over it and get on with life. He had a philosophy that tough times don't last, but tough people do. And he lived his life as such. When the war started, he jumped back in as a security specialist. At that time I was being courted by the Navy to go back in as a medic attached to a Marine unit. I was a newly minted EMT heading for Paramedic status, and they were very aware that combat medics would be in demand when the war heated up. P went in, even though he had a wife and kids. I was engaged and just ready to start Family Life, which was a sticking point for me. I didn't want to go off and die somewhere and leave a wife and kids behind. So I chose to get married and start my family and serve my communities as a medic instead. (The Navy also wanted me to do their boot camp again, which seemed a little silly after having been through USMC boot. And at the time they wouldn't give me a promotion. They did call again two years later though, about six months after P died, ready to sign me up with a promotion to E-6 and send me off with the Marines. But I had a one year old son. I just couldn't do it.)
In that sense, P was a much stronger patriot than I. He was willing to sacrifice the future with his wife, kids, grand kids, family, to serve in the war however he could and fight for those who needed fighting for. He had a true warrior spirit, and was an honorable man. I wonder what he would have accomplished had he turned 40 and gone on living to a ripe old age. I wonder what I can do to honor his life and his sacrifice. To earn the freedom that he served to provide.
I did some time in the Marine Corps. Almost a decade. I gave the government a "blank check" to spend as they saw fit. Willing at the time to give my all, even my life, to serve this country. But that check expired. Though I serve still in very small ways, others have taken my place and the US has cashed their checks. Some giving the last full measure. Like P did. His check had no expiration date, and it cost him and his family a future of wondrous possibilities.
It will take me some time to get my head around not only his loss, but what I can do to honor him. I will start by remembering his last words to me as a Marine. That I can do anything I put my mind to. And remembering him with his own words to me...
Goodbye P. We're going to miss you. You're a good Marine and a good man.