“They lost their lives for their country. But the loyalty they had for each other will stand for all time.”
During his Memorial Day address in Arlington National Cemetery four weeks after the death of Osama Bin Laden, President Obama extolled the heroism and sacrifice of two men buried side by side in front of him: Travis Manion, a fallen U.S. Marine, and Brendan Looney, a fallen U.S. Navy SEAL. Although these men were not related, their families made sure their final resting places were next to each other, to honor their unbreakable bond.
In their book, Brothers Forever: The Enduring Bond between a Marine and a Navy SEAL that Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice (Da Capo Press), award-winning journalist Tom Sileo and Travis’s father, Colonel Tom Manion, USMC (Ret.), tell the intimate story of how these fallen heroes defined a generation’s sacrifice during wars 1,000 miles apart. The book is about men at war—but as a tale of loyalty between two comrades in arms and comrades in life and of the steadfast support of their families, it resonates well beyond the battlefield.
We meet Travis and Brendan as they meet each other at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis during the spring of 2001. We watch them forge their dedication to their country and each other through training and after the tragedy of 9/11. When Brendan is deployed to stable South Korea, he pleads with superior officers to let him redeploy to dangerous Iraq, where Travis is serving. When Brendan gets accepted for coveted SEALs training, Travis shares his elation.
During a reunion in December 2006, the connection between Travis and Brendan remains as strong as ever. They attend a Redskins-Eagles game in Philadelphia, sharing some beers and stories and friendly trash talk. Brendan tells his friend that if you make the most of what you’re doing, there is no way to regret it. Travis agrees. It is the last time they will see each other alive.
Brothers Forever is a timeless story of commitment and comradeship and of a friendship that transcends all obstacles. Here’s an excerpt about Brendan speaking at Travis’s memorial service.
Looking out over the hotel ballroom, Brendan suddenly felt pressure building in his throat after wishing everyone “good evening.” Despite spending the entire day figuring out how to avoid becoming emotional, seeing everyone sitting in front of him, especially Tom, Janet, Ryan, Dave, and Maggie, hit him harder than any explosion he had experienced during combat simulation exercises. Less than a year earlier, Travis and Brendan had still been hanging out, laughing, and going to Redskins-Eagles games. Now he was giving a speech after Travis’s death.
As Brendan looked down and briefly covered his mouth, the only sound in the room was a barely audible whimper from little Maggie, who was up past her bedtime. Everyone else was quiet and motionless as the sorrow on Brendan’s face became more evident.
Almost no one in the room knew this young man was about to become a Navy SEAL. They just knew he was a very close friend.
After beginning by thanking the Manion family and again looking toward their table, Brendan stopped. To his astonishment, tears were starting to form. In that moment he realized, as he never had before, that Travis really wasn’t coming home from Iraq.
After again covering his lower lip, gently shaking his head, and taking a breath so deep it was audible through the microphone, Brendan continued his speech.
“I was lucky enough to room with Travis at the Naval Academy for two years,” he said, pausing and taking a deep breath. “Throughout our time, we became very close.”
Brendan was now on the verge of tears, and many could hear it in his voice. Though Brendan believed he was showing weakness, those watching him marveled at his courage in stepping up to the microphone. Clearly this young man was in pain after losing someone so close.
“I think it was mostly because we had very similar views on many things and enjoyed a lot of the same activities,” Brendan said. “In a very short time, he became another brother to me.”
Still fighting tears, Brendan began to hit his stride, launching into a story about taking a trip to Texas with Travis for a wedding. Slowly but surely, he was overcoming his emotions, taking a few more deep breaths in between speaking.
“It was on this trip that Travis solidified his position in my family…as an extended member of my family,” said Brendan, who added that his mom, sister, brother, and fiancée were all there.
After sharing several humorous anecdotes involving his brother Billy and his unique rapport with Travis, Brendan had the tearful audience laughing. He showed them a funny picture of Billy and Travis from the trip, which helped everyone smile, including Brendan.
“It reminds me of all the good times we had,” Brendan said of the picture. “I think it also shows how easygoing and likeable a person Travis was.”
As his voice began to crack, Brendan’s well-guarded emotional levee finally broke.
“He was a great friend, and I’ll never forget him, and I miss him,” Brendan said.
The ensuing ovation was universal, heartfelt, and lengthy. As Brendan stood there listening to the applause, he may have realized that his fiancée was right. If there was ever an appropriate time to reveal his emotions, this was it.
“Your speech was beautiful, Brendan,” Janet said afterward as Tom nodded in agreement. “I know Travis was up there smiling.
“We also brought two things that we thought you should have,” she continued. “We meant to give them to you that night at the house.”
“This is Travis’s knife,” Tom said. “He got this when he first joined First Recon and took it with him both times to Iraq….It was given back to us with his things. I couldn’t think of anyone who deserved this more than you.”
Before Brendan could say “thank-you,” Janet put her arm around him to give him the second memento.
“And here’s a bracelet we had made to honor Travis,” she said. “It’s the same one that we all wear, and when things get tough or dangerous, I want you to make sure you’re wearing it.”
The bracelet was black and engraved with three lines of silver lettering:
1st Lt. Travis Manion, USMC
Spartan, Hero, Leader
KIA Iraqi Freedom, 29 Apr. ’07
“Always remember,” Janet said. “Someone is looking out for you.”
Brendan hugged Janet, shook Tom’s hand, and thanked them both, then held up the bracelet and promised, “I’ll wear this every single day for the rest of my life.”
Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Da Capo Press, from Brothers Forever. Copyright © 2014 by Tom Sileo and Thomas Manion.