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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Travis, Brendan, and the Gift of Friendship

 It began as a simple conversation between two cadets at the the United States Naval Academy. One spring day in 2001, Brendan Looney walked out to football practice and stopped by to compliment another cadet on his guitar playing. After exchanging greetings and a laugh as to whose NFL team was better, they introduced themselves to one another, and an inseparable bond was born. Brendan and Travis were destined to become friends. They knew it. And they loved it.
 For the rest of their college years and beyond, the two of them shared everything with each other: a desire to serve, a sense of duty, a daring courage, and a willingness to sacrifice for what was right. Both chose different paths to accomplish this - Travis went into the Marines and became an officer; Brendan went into the Navy and become one of their elite: a Navy SEAL. Both would serve harrowing deployments in the Middle East and would support one another through their best and worst moments. Even more, they would eventually bring their families together because of their bond. As playful bets on sports teams and care-free bike rides together (as they once shared at Annapolis) turned into conversations about war, as miles now separated the two friends who were once rarely seen apart, they still maintained a friendship that grew deeper with time.

 Several years after their first meeting, Brendan was still in SEAL training; Travis was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. Travis' emails kept family members and close friends, like Brendan, updated on his latest military efforts over there. April 29, 2007 brought a taxing mission for Travis and his fellow Marines. It was a mission that, at the end of the day, would claim the life of one of the Corps' finest - 1LT. Travis Manion. As Travis' family grieved his death, Brendan did the same…right along with them. Brendan's girlfriend, Amy, who had also known Travis, attended the memorial service in place of Brendan, who was still training with the SEALS. Travis was buried in Pennsylvania near his hometown. To honor his life and service, the family, and Brendan, ran the Marine Corps Marathon and also were honored to enjoy a special visit with then-President George W. Bush. The bond between Travis and Brendan still existed…
 Nearly three years later, just days after marrying Amy, Brendan would deploy to Afghanistan for six months. Now on his second tour since Travis' death, Brendan felt as though he was completing what Travis never got to finish. Every time he looked at the bracelet on his wrist that read,

1LT. Travis Manion, USMC
Spartan, Hero, Leader
KIA Iraqi Freedom, 29 APR. '07

he knew what he was doing…who he was doing it for. Now considered a close part of the Manion family, he kept them updated on his efforts, just as Travis once did for him.
 September 21, 2010 dawned like any other day. But it soon turned tragic: LT. Brendan Looney, along with three other sailors, was killed in a helicopter crash in the mountains of Afghanistan. They were just a few weeks prior to coming home. Travis' family mourned once again…this time with the Looneys. The two friends were bonded in life and now death, for both sacrificed the same way. Both died doing their duty.
 When the Manions learned that Brendan was to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, it seemed fitting that the two friends should rest together. Travis' remains were dug up and re-buried next to his friend Brendan. In their absence, both families have continued to bond and have sustained a connection which "Lion" and "Loon-Dog," as they were known.
  This amazing story, as chronicled in the book Brothers Forever by Tom Sileo and Tom Manion, got me thinking about the gift of friendship. How often we fail to acknowledge the special people in our lives who have shared the journey with us. Not the ones who merely pass through. Rather the loyal friends who share our sorrows as their own, who rejoice in our successes as if they were theirs'. Who become a part of us…and we a part of them. Brendan and Travis' deep love for one another and their shared ideals is a model for each of us. To not just be the type of friend who is there in prosperity or, worse yet, is too busy to stop and listen deeply. No…may we be as committed as these fine young men were: to God, to family, to country, and to each other. And may we be blessed enough to be given our own Brendan or Travis who will walk with us to the very end.