By Lt. Col. Mark A. Smith
On Tuesday 16 Nov 04, I had the honor of taking my command element forward to Fox Company's position for the Field Memorial Service for Corporal Brian R. Prening, F Co, 2nd Bn, 24th Marines, killed in action against enemy forces Yusufiyah, Iraq. Now, I say honor, because as tragic as the situation was, and as painful as it was, what I witnessed that day is forever and indelibly etched into both my consciousness and my soul. So, if you will allow me, I will try my utmost to communicate to you the events as they unfolded that day.
Fox Company has been forward in FOB St. Joseph for over two months now, attempting to bring stability to an area that had not had a presence of Multi-National Forces. As I have communicated to you previously, it was an absolute bastion of Radical Islamists and Terrorists, who had brutalized the citizens in unspeakable terms. Well, the WARRIORS of Fox Company have put an end to that. And, for the terrorists, many of whom are believed to have been the leaders of the insurgency in Fallujah, have been attempting to come home. Sad fact for them, Fox Company now owns their permanent zip code. So, on the day of Cpl Prenning's unfortunate death, the enemy, for the first time, chose to actually stand and fight. They did, and at the end of the day, over forty of them lie dead on the battlefield. And, over the course of the last week, throughout our zone, but especially in Fox's, we have rounded up and arrested over 120 of them. That said, and for all the fantastic work of the Battalion elements, this day was no cause for celebration, it was our time to mourn our honored dead.
As the leadership of the Company, the Battalion and the Marines of Cpl Prening's platoon gathered for the memorial, the atmosphere was sheer solemnity. The Marines of Fox were layered with the Iraqi dust that they have called home for 60 days plus. The smell of sweat that eminates from them can only be described as the smell of freedom. That combination of sweat, dirt and emotion that combines to create an aroma that is not repugnant in the least, but serves to stimulate the Warrior gene that you are among "special knights of the warriored breed."
The ceremony began with the placing of the rifle, helmet boots and dog tags of the fallen Marine, and was followed by Scripture readings, Company Commander memorial and teammate remembrances. The Marines that knew Cpl Prening best, memorialized him, through their tears and emotions, in a manner that I know would have made his family swell with pride. They were eloquent beyond imagination, and their words were a lance to the soul in their beauty and truth.
Then came his Plt Cmdr, 1stLt Mayne. Now, before I continue, I must describe 1stLt Mayne. I have been in a few scraps in my day, and truth be known, kind of enjoy that. But, 1stLt Mayne is one of those physical figures that you see and immediately think, if I can avoid a scrap with this lad, that would most probably be the preferred course of action. Additionally, since the day we arrived, 1stLt Mayne's combat accomplishments have been EXTRAORDINARY! His actions have been right in the face of the enemy, and he has stared death squarely in the eye on several occassions, and has done nothing but lead his Marines is a calm and professional manner that has absolutely confounded the enemy each and every time, and more often than not, lead to many of the enemy achieving their goal of martrydom!
But, on this day, the Lt Mayne that I saw was not the Warrior. No, the Lt Mayne I saw on this day was the Man. And, it embarasses me not one bit to say I only hope to be one tenth the Man I saw in Lt Mayne on that day. He spoke of his admiration for Cpl Prening and Cpl Prening's actions in a manner that crushed your soul and made you want to scream that you were not worthy of sharing the same room as these Warriors. He spoke of the need to channel and contain the rage and always honor Cpl Prening by only killing in righteousness and in accordance with the rules. He spoke of the "decent people of Iraq" who we are here to liberate. He spoke of all these things in a manner and among those who must do it in a way that should shame every person who has ever ascribed any attribute to our Marines, other than hero.
Having done that, he then finished with a prayer. A prayer that he stated he prays every night, and in knowing this man and the quality of his character, I suspect he prays it one hundred times a day. As he prayed the prayer of St. Ignatius aloud, I can tell you, I have never felt such overwhelming pain and peace, all at the same time. I have never been so destroyed and fullfilled, all at the same time. I have never been so torn, and so complete, all at the same time. Upon relfection, I understood how I could have such dichotomous feelings all at once. Because in that thirty second prayer, prayed aloud by a man and Marine Officer who will forever have my undying respect and admiration, I realized in the prayer of St. Ignatius, the eternal reality of our temporal struggle: GOOD VS. EVIL. And, I was standing, humbled to the bone, among the agents of GOOD.
Maybe I am wrong, but I believe in my heart and soul that everything has a time and a purpose under God. And at that time and for this purpose, God used Cpl Prening and Lt Mayne, that we would know our struggle is right, and that our will be not shaken, and that for our children and the future of our Great Nation, we will see this through until there is nothing but peace for our future generations. And, that for that struggle, there is a price paid in death, in visible scars and in invisible ones.
So, for LCpl Daniel R. Wyatt, Cpl Nathaniel T. Hammond, LCpl Shane K. O'Donnell, LCpl Branden P. Ramey, Cpl Robert P. Warns II, Cpl Peter J. Giannopoulos, Cpl Brian R. Prening, the next time you see a US Veteran, you shake his hand and say thank you. You shake his hand with the ferocity of firmness that says I love you, and I thank you for my freedom. If you get the chance, you go to a US Veterans hospital and you gently stroke the head of our wounded and broken from all wars, in a manner that says, do not be afraid, for I am here with you friend, I love you and I thank you. You do all this if you can, because everything we have, everything we are, we have and are because of their unbelievable sacrifice! And for that my friends, you and I should be eternally grateful and eternally humbled, for we have walked with the Saints!
St Ignatius' Prayer:
Lord give me the strength to serve you as you deserve;
To give, and not to count the cost;
To fight, and not to heed the wounds;
To toil, and not to seek for rest;
To labor, and not to seek reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.
May God continue to bless you and bless you abundantly, as he does me everyday that I share this earth with your beloved. And may he grant strength, peace and serenity to the families of our fallen heroes.
Mark A. Smith