26 May 2015

Memorial Day by USMC MSgt Willie Ellerbrock (Retired)

I had not planned to write an essay on this holiday, but fighting insomnia since 2:30 AM, I read a story that touched me so deeply I felt prompted to share it with you.

U.S. Marine Sgt. William Stacey was killed in 2012 in Afghanistan. The 23-year-old wrote a letter to his family explaining why he was fighting, to be read in the event of his death. Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time, read the letter during a Memorial Day service in Kabul.
Sgt. Stacey wrote: "There will be a child who will live because men left the security they enjoyed in their home to come to his. He will have the gift of freedom which I have enjoyed for so long myself, and if my life brings the safety of a child who will one day change the world, then I know that it was worth it all."

Today we remember 1.3 million men and women who died so we could live. Each of them left the security of their homes to defend ours. They paid the ultimate price for their nation and for each of us. It's been said that the reason you've not received a bill for the freedom you enjoy today is that its price has already been paid. Today we remember those who paid that price and pray for those they left behind. As we remember their sacrifice, let us also remember the One who gave everything for our eternal life. Paul told the Romans, "At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8).

On March 15, 1985, Wayne Alderson appeared on The Today Show. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of his crossing into Germany, the first American soldier to do so during World War II. He has a permanent crease on his head from a wound he received on that day. Asked about his most significant memory of the event, Alderson told about a red-headed friend who saved his life. Alderson had come face to face with a German soldier. He shot the German, but not before he had thrown a grenade at Alderson which exploded and sent him face-down and wounded into the mud. Nearby, a German machine gun began firing in his direction. Alderson knew that if the grenade wound did not kill him, the machine gun would. But his friend turned him over so he could breathe and threw his own body over him. He died protecting him from certain death. With tears welling up in his eyes, Alderson said, "I can never forget the person who sacrificed his life to save me. I owe everything to him. I can never forget . . . I owe everything."

Honoring and Remembering our brothers and sisters who have paid the ultimate price for all of us so that liberty shall not perish from the Earth. We've heard or have many stories of bravery, ferocity, tenacity, humanity, horror, loss, honor, valor and kindness. They've been cried out loud by our Warriors and Gold Star Families for all to hear or shared casually during a moment of shared experience, oftentimes simply whispered in the calm of night. They all come from the same place; a place of pain and vulnerability, yearning for absolution or at the very least for the next day to hurt less that the last. Unless you are or are close to them, it may be hard to understand. The important thing is that a part of the healing is the respect and remembrance of those who are gone. Every day is another opportunity for someone to honor our fallen and provide love for the living.

To the great many Warriors and Gold Star Families I know personally, you have my eternal respect, gratitude and love. Thank you for allowing me to honor you and your Heroes. It truly is my highest honor. Today is a day of remembrance for our loved and lost. Recently I was asked to elaborate whether or not it is appropriate to "fire up" the grills and 'celebrate' Memorial day and what was my opinion as a veteran ... my response was simple: ."Go ahead and fire the grill and enjoy the day because I wholeheartedly believe that's what our fallen would want us to do. They would ask you just one thing ... to just take a moment to reflect and share stories like this one with your friends and family and especially your children, so that the legacy of these brave souls will live forever."

It took me a while to let go of the "guilt" for having been 'spared' and to embrace the "gift" of being able to walk this earth and give my absolute best each and every day to make a difference the best I can. I truly believe the best way to honor our fallen is to remember them and defend these liberties with all of our might and ability; as they did for us. Love deeply and live greatly; for them and yourselves.

Semper Fidelis

USMC MSgt Willie Ellerbrock (Retired)

06 April 2015

11 Years since 2/4 Marines ambush in Ramadi, Iraq

Today marks a sad day in that it has been 11 years since 12 men of 2/4 Marines were killed in a savage ambush in the marketplace along Route Gypsum in Ramadi, Iraq. Gold Star dad John Wroblewski and I traveled to Rt. Gypsum to perform a memorial service for the Fallen Warriors on 6 March 2008, and stood where John's son, 2nd Lt. J.T. "Ski" Wroblewski was mortally wounded during the battle. The names of the Fallen as read by John Wroblewski during the memorial service are as follows:

"LCpl Benjamin Carman, LCpl Marcus Cherry, PFC Christopher Cobb, LCpl Kyle Crowley, PFC Deryk Hallal, PFC Ryan Jerabek, PFC Moises Langhorst, LCpl Travis Layfield, HM3 Fernandez Mendez, LCpl Anthony Roberts, SSgt Allan Walker, and my hero, 2Lt John Thomas Wroblewski."

Not only were the lives of the families of these men affected, but the lives of their Marine brothers were also changed forever. I have had the honor of meeting several of these men, and they still miss their fallen comrades to this day, and wish they could have done something to save their brothers. David Swanson, a photojournalist from the Philadelphia Enquirer, was embedded with 2/4 prior to and following the 6 April battle, spent time with 2nd Lt. Wroblewski and others in the unit. Swanson was also wounded in the ensuing battle when the rest of the unit came to rescue their fellow Marines from the hundreds of insurgents surrounding the patrol.  

In recent comments to a post I made on the 2nd Btn 4th Marines' Facebook page, many of the Marines that served with the Fallen shared their memories. I only have specific permission from Ben Musser to share his comment, but will share the other thoughts if the men agree to do so. Ben Musser wrote, "Lt. Ski was my platoon Commander. He was probably the coolest officer I ever met. He didn't join our unit acting like he knew everything, but would ask Lance Corporals how they normally did stuff, things like that. My fondest memory of the man was in Kuwait. It was evening time, no training. Everyone was getting ready to sleep, and someone came in saying that Lt. Ski wanted to see me. I was just a LCpl, and there wasn't a reason any Lt. should be talking to me individually. So, I went over to the officers hooch and Lt. Ski came out. He pulled me off to the side so nobody would overhear, and quietly asked me if I had any Pantera CD's that he could borrow. He said he felt like jamming out to some heavy shit, and I was the guy that might have some. That was the moment he showed me he was a real person to me. He was a great Officer, and a great human (being.)"

Many other Marines lost their lives in the battles that followed the 6 April 2004 ambush in both Ramadi and Fallujah. By honoring them through our memories and shared stories, we can keep them alive forever. 

As we all know, the situation in Iraq has changed greatly today. Regardless of that, the Marines and soldiers in Iraq served with bravery, distinction, and honor, and accomplished everything they were ordered to do there. I am proud of all of you, and thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your service and sacrifices. Having walked the streets of Ramadi with 2/8 Marines in March 2008, and accomplishing my mission to get John Wroblewski to Route Gypsum, I know I will never forget these brave men that made the ultimate sacrifice on that terrible day in April 2004, along with the loss their families experienced. Today and always, the Magnificent Bastards of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines and their families will be in my thoughts and prayers.  

Here are a few of my photographs from the 6 March 2008 memorial service performed by John Wroblewski, Major General John Kelly, and PSD Company Marines. Oohrah!