Just a few days ago, I wrote a post about the unworthy recipient of a big, prestigious award, called the American Patriot Award. I don't need to rehash all the reasons that this honor was empty, unmerited or a travesty. Instead, I want to focus on an amazing evening that I was privileged to witness last Friday.
Marcus was part of a four-man Navy Seal team tasked with surveillance and reconnaissance of a group of structures known to be used by the local leader of the Taliban. In his book, Lone Survivor, Marcus details the deaths of his three team-mates and his harrowing rescue by a local Pashtun village, before he was ultimately recovered by a U.S. quick reaction force. He determined that the lives of his brothers-in-arms would never be forgotten. He tells their story every chance he gets.
History will note Navy Seal Chris Kyle as the most lethal sniper in American military history with 160 confirmed kills out of 255 claimed kills. After retiring from the Navy, Chris made it his life's work to assist our returning veterans. He continued to serve, until the day his life was taken in a senseless act by one of those veterans he was selflessly trying to help. He and Marcus are the stuff legends are made of; both proud Texans who were also proud to call themselves Patriots.
Like so many of us, they hated that this word ... Patriot ... had become a negative term. They still believed in love of country, and believed in supporting our nation and its authority. They were both proud to have fought for her, and thought it would be a great idea to tour the country and reflect on what it means to be a Patriot; to share the experiences of those who fought in uniform, and to let the American public hear from family members who made the ultimate sacrifice. In the end, they wanted to keep the memories alive of their loved ones and to pay tribute to the courage and sacrifice that allow us to remain free.
The death of Chris Kyle was not the end of his participation in the Patriot Tour. Chris lives on in the memories of his wife, Taya, who joined the Tour in his stead. A picture of courage, Taya gave us the human side of Chris. We all knew his military exploits and the hardcore sniper that appeared in the pages of his bestseller, American Sniper. But Taya showed us Chris's heart. She related stories of his desire to meet the needs of his fellow veterans. And that compassion didn't just settle on soldiers from the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He reached out to Vietnam veterans, who had been slighted by America; both their government and fellow citizens had not properly respected them. Chris wanted to make sure they were recognized for their loyalty and service to the country.
Although Taya called each of us audience members patriots, just by virtue of us being there to support the Tour and to hear their stories, I felt unworthy of her praise. She tried to say that we didn't have to wear a uniform to be a patriot. By holding the beliefs we do, and honoring our flag, and standing for the National Anthem with our hands over our hearts, we showed that we, too, value all that America stands for. But I must protest. All we did was buy a ticket and show up. She and those on the stage that night were the ones who had served. She and her family had skin in the game and paid with their blood. I am more than happy to bow down to their superior and selfless sacrifice for me.
And then came the man that everyone was there to hear. When Chris Kyle was killed, that didn't deter Marcus Luttrell from their shared goal. He still wanted to tell his story; how alongside Matt Axelson, Danny Dietz, and Michael Murphy, he fought indescribable odds against the Taliban on that mountain in Afghanistan. The audience sat spellbound, as he described his youth and the desire he shared with his twin brother, Morgan, to become Navy Seals. (Morgan is currently on his eleventh tour!) From the age of 14, they trained to meet their goal. First, with a curmudgeonly ex-Green Beret named Billy Shelton, who put the young men through excruciatingly painful physical and endurance tests. By the time Marcus was ready to enter BUDS training to become a Navy Seal, his mind was made up. "Never quit" was his motto.
Then came the gut-wrenching details of his fight on that mountain. I have read his book 3 times and heard him speak on several different occasions. But this evening seemed different than the rest. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to relive each stage of that firefight, and to retell the unimaginable injuries that Axe, Danny and Mikey suffered. How could they possibly keep fighting with the terminal injuries they suffered? Both legs shattered, backs broken, faces nearly blown off, thumbs missing, multiple gunshot wounds, sliding and falling off the mountain; still they fought on. It becomes quite obvious that no one in that audience could have done what they did. That is why they are the elite of the elite!
We were taken to a place that most of us will never know. Marcus took us to where his friends died, and where he continued to fight to live, so that he could tell their stories. His rescue and recovery is nothing short of a miracle, and a story that every American should hear. They are why we continue to enjoy the freedom we still possess, and why it is worth fighting for.
Not a sound was heard in that auditorium as Marcus paid homage to his fellow patriots. The horrors he described witnessing were almost too much to bear; his voice betrayed the emotional toll it was taking on him. But we needed to hear it, and he needed to tell us, because we have to know who these men were; these men who were willing to die for us on a remote mountain in a far-off land. While we were safe and sound and comfortable in our beds, these four men put everything on the line for us.
Marcus prefers to call himself "a simple guy from a small town in Texas who loves God, his family, and his country." Yes, he is all those things. And as he tells his story, and the story of his teammates, it becomes clear that he values hard work, team work and perseverance. It is those attributes that were instilled in him long ago by Billy Shelton and the U.S. Navy Seals. But I'm afraid that he will never escape what he means to those of us who have the privilege to hear his story in person. He represents all those old-fashioned principles and values that we fear are gone forever from America -- faith in God, love of country, and the willingness to lay down your life to secure our freedoms. Debbie, Chad, Taya, Marcus --- they were all proud to call themselves Americans, and that's a rare commodity these days. And everyone represented on that stage was a hero, as well as a patriot. It was an honor to be in their presence, and I only wish they could know how this proud American thanks them for what they've done for me.
Ephesians 6:13 "Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm."