By Brad Lindemann
This is #10 in a 12 part weekly series of excerpts from my book, In Business for Life. I wrote the book to pass along some lessons learned at the crossroads of business and life. My hope being that some could learn from my mistakes and avoid a few head-on collisions. Failing that, my hope is that readers walk away from future collisions with fewer injuries and a fresh perspective on life. Because if you get nothing else out of my book, you truly must get this --
courage knows no age limits.
It seems fitting to end this chapter with a true story about courage as told by the most courageous man I’ve ever known. I’m honored to call him “friend.” Though I’ve read this account many times, I’ve never gotten through it without a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. I have no military experience, but have tremendous respect for all those who have served our country. One of my most prized possessions is an American flag that flew over the Marine camp where my soldier friend was stationed during his second tour of duty. You’ll be stunned to learn how it came about.
The story you’re about to read reminds me of something General Colin Powell said while speaking at a leadership conference a few years ago. The General’s favorite question to ask a veteran upon meeting him is, “Were you a good soldier?”
He explained that vets tire of the well-meaning “thank you for your service” comments. They’re more interested in genuine recognition and respect. Most want/need to talk about their experiences, because without knowing something of their personal stories, attempts to recognize and respect them ring hollow. Powell’s simple question is an invitation for vets to tell their story. Stories like this one, as told by my humble friend who insists that the only true heroes contained herein are the ones who never came home.
Journal Entry, 2009 (Oceanside, California)
The afternoon was spent washing uniforms and other clothing, calling my wife to wish her a happy Mother’s Day and generally getting myself ready to report aboard my U. S. Marine Corps infantry battalion at Camp Pendleton tomorrow morning. I spent the early evening catching up on some emails with family and friends and then I drove alone down to a small fish house overlooking San Diego Bay for a celebration of sorts. I had been there once before many years ago. I will explain what I was celebrating later.
The following story I have never told to another living soul before now. I am recounting it now so my family will know my real reason for volunteering for this mission to save young Marines and soldiers from being killed by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).
Let me go back in time. The year was 1967 and I was a U.S. Marine stationed in Vietnam. Some of my fellow Marines were heading out on a mission. I went to where they were loading up the truck so I could tell my buddies to watch their backs and to crack a few jokes before they left. They loaded up and then climbed aboard. I told them I couldn’t go with them because I had to stay in camp. In true Marine Corps fashion, they all gave me the “one-fingered-salute.” Then they drove out the front gate.
I busied myself with my assigned duties for the next hour or so until another Marine ran up to me and asked me if our guys had just left our camp in a truck. I said they had and he spoke words to me that I will never forget. He said, “Their truck hit a mine buried in the road. They’re all dead.” I just stood there. I couldn’t and wouldn’t believe it. I told him he must be wrong. They had just left. It had to be somebody else. He told me he thought the truck belonged to our battalion because he heard it had our markings on the doors. I remember walking to the motor pool where they brought in damaged vehicles. I sat on a sandbag by myself and waited. It wasn’t long before a flatbed truck and trailer drove into the motor pool with what was left of a damaged truck resting on the trailer. I walked up to the damaged truck and saw our battalion markings on the doors.
I sat down again on the sandbag and stared at the damage to the truck and my heart sank. I don’t have words to express how I felt. I guess I would say now that all people have defining moments in their lives that change their core being. You are just never the same as you were and you will never be what you would have otherwise been. That moment in time stood still for me and it seared my soul forever. My buddies, my fellow Marines, the guys I ate with, slept with and had laughed with had vanished from my life and from the face of the Earth forever. I have never forgotten their names or their smiles or the sparkle in their eyes.
Now I will finish my story about the celebration dinner overlooking San Diego Bay and you will understand. The time was the summer of 1966 and the place was Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. A bunch of young Marines were getting ready to ship out to Vietnam. One evening it was decided that we would treat ourselves to one last great meal before we left. We drove down to a fish house overlooking San Diego Bay and got a table outside. I can’t remember what any of us ate but I can remember lots of laughs, arms around each other’s necks, punches in the shoulders to see who could ‘really take it like a Marine’ and just a great time of fun and fellowship for a bunch of innocent, young guys getting ready to go off to war. We all made a promise to each other that night. We would all return to that same place when we came back from Vietnam, to have dinner and to celebrate coming back home. We couldn’t admit it then, even to ourselves, because we were tough Marines but what we would really be celebrating was our love for each other as brothers-in-arms.
Tonight, some 43 years later, I was alone at the table outside on the deck overlooking the bay at that same restaurant. The evening was cool so no one else was eating outside and I was glad it worked out that way. The waitress had looked at me rather strangely when I requested a table outside because it was so cool. I ate a great meal and afterwards I asked the waitress to bring me a brandy. I sipped it as I looked out at the sea that we all had sailed across in 1966 to meet our destinies. I remembered that celebration and the promise we all had made. I raised my glass and toasted those brave, young heroes, my fellow Marines, six pieces of my heart that were torn out so many years ago. I was the only one to make it back and it was my duty to them to keep the promise.
To my family, all of whom I love more than I can tell you, now you know why I had to accept this mission to go to Iraq with the Marine Corps. I will use my skills to seek out insurgents and terrorists who plant hidden explosive devices that kill young Marines and soldiers and I will do my part to try and stop them. I have made a silent promise to this group of young Marines to do all I can to help save their lives and to see them return back home to their families. God willing, I will keep that promise too.
Journal Entry, 2010 (Camp Pendleton, California)
Today I arrived back at Camp Pendleton with the rest of my battalion after our deployment to Iraq. We left the United States with over 1,000 Marines and Naval personnel in our battalion. We returned with everyone who deployed. Second promise kept.