My peers and I have grown up in the military shadow of WWII and the “greatest generation”. It is likely, at least I hope, that we will never see a war on the same scale of WWI or WWII, so the burden bore by our country should never be felt at that scale again. Yet, we have endured war, including one of the longest in US history, and while the death toll may not be comparable, it is no consolation to the military families that still shoulder the weight of it, just like they did decades ago and throughout history. A soldier killed on the field of battle in the Middle East is no less tragic and no less heroic than those who fell on the beach at Normandy. And while we, the citizenry, may have our disagreements on the practicality and reason for going to war, our support for the soldiers and tears when they fall should never waver.
Brothers Forever is the true story of two best friends, Travis Manion and Brendon Looney, US Naval Academy roommates who both went on to serve their country the best way they knew how and both ended up paying the ultimate price. Their lives ended a few years apart and in different countries, but their story lives on. They were reunited in death at Arlington Cemetery where they now lay side-by-side, a reminder of their enduring bond to each other, their families and their country.
Looney and Manion met somewhat late in their young lives, but the connection was immediate. The friendship that grew was not only intense in its bond, but also in its competition. They pushed each other in anyway possible. Who could run faster? Farther? Longer? Anything competitive was a clarion call to these two warriors, but they never saw winning as a title to hold over the other, it was just another rung in the ladder they encouraged each other to climb.
The details of their youth and entrance into the armed forces reads like a pamphlet for the picturesque American dream. Both men were strong, honorable, caring and unbendingly loyal to their friends, family and country. Serving was never a question for either of them. Looney wanted to go onto the become a Navy SEAL, while Manion chose to become a Marine. Both became strong leaders in their groups and were instantly recognized by anyone who worked alongside them as soldiers worth following.
Yet, as you know from the moment you start reading, both men met untimely and tragic fates while fighting in one of the most dangerous and desolate places on Earth. The scenes about the families being notified were heart wrenching, only made more so when you take into account this book is co-authored by Manion’s father, Col. Tom Manion USMCR (Ret.), alongside Tom Sileo. The idea of any father sitting down to pore over detail after detail of his own son’s untimely death is so unbelievable, yet Col. Manion did just that and even more by providing that same level of care and honor to Looney’s story alongside.
One of the other important points to be taken from the story of the incredible soldiers is their sense of duty for why they were in constant danger. They admitted the understanding of killing terrorists and eliminating dangers and threats to the United States, but just as meaningful was their consideration to provide that same safety and protection to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. They both wrote back to their families numerous times about the cultural wonders, passion and determination of the citizens there who wanted so badly just to be given the chance to grow and prosper without the shroud of radicalization hanging over them. That truth is central to any present or future plan to bring safety and stability to that part of the world.
Some may give a cursory glance to this book and think of it as an advertisement for the military or a rallying cry to join up and grab your guns, but that is a gross mischaracterization. Brothers Forever is a story about duty, honor, friendship, family and above all trying to do the best you can to help. For some that may very well lie in places far outside the military life, but they can still employ the lessons from Looney and Manion. As Manion told his brother-in-law, and later became inscribed on his tombstone, “If not me, then who?”