'Side by Side'
By Second Lieutenant Eric Montgomery, U.S. Marine Corps
For the Commander William Earl Fannin, Class of 1945, Capstone Essay Contest
For one former enlisted Marine and veteran of the war in Iraq, being a commissioned officer carries a great deal of personal weight.
During the summer of 2005, my brother Brian and I were serving together in Iraq with Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 25th Marines. Words could never describe the immense pride I felt serving side by side with him in combat. Two brothers, childhood best friends that now shared the sacred title of Marine, fighting together in a cause for which we both had very deep convictions.
It truly was our finest moment in the context of our own personal history. We both proudly wore the eagle, globe, and anchor and strived to carry on the traditions of the Marines who had gone before us. Most important to us was excellence in combat. I could write pages about the great memories we shared together in Iraq, but that is not the purpose here.
On 1 August that summer, while conducting combat operations outside the city of Haditha, Lance Corporal Brian P. Montgomery was killed in action. I was destroyed. Never in my life had I felt like such a failure. What was I going to say to my parents? What would I tell Brian's wife? To make things worse, I was immediately pulled from my platoon and sent home to attend Brian's funeral. Not only had my brother been killed, but I felt like I was going home in defeat, as if I were retreating. His death did not become a reality for me until I was flying over the Atlantic Ocean back to the States, when a flight attendant handed me a copy of USA Today. On the front page was a story about Brian.
Bringing Brian Home
Before I left Iraq, I was given a new mission by my company first sergeant. It was my job to tell Brian's story, to ensure his legacy did not die with him. It was also my duty to make sure Brian's body made it home to my family and that he was properly laid to rest. While I did not embrace this mission at first, I slowly started to grasp the importance of it. Had I not been a Marine, I would not have been able to carry out this mission, and I would not have been able to carry his casket to his final resting place.
Carrying a fallen Marine's casket is a privilege reserved for fellow Marines. It is the most important mission any Marine could have. Now, for the first time in my short career, I truly knew what it meant to be a Marine. Members of the Corps take care of each other, bottom line; in life, in death, on the streets of heaven, or in the fires of hell. Whatever I said at Brian's funeral would be the last thing people would remember about my brother.
So on a sunny August morning, in a church filled to capacity with crowds of people standing outside because they couldn't fit inside, I stood at the pulpit and with fire in my eyes I delivered the best eulogy I could muster, honoring my childhood hero for the selfless sacrifice he had made for everyone in that room. On that day, Brian defeated death. I knew that his story, his legacy, would be carried on from that day forward in the hearts and minds of everyone in that church. I knew that they would forever be grateful for Brian and so many other men and women like him.
About Becoming an Officer
After the service, with tears in my eyes, I joined five other Marine honor guards to carry Brian's body back to the hearse so he could be taken to his final resting place. As I was about to get back into the limousine with my family, the commanding general of the 4th Marine Division, Major General Douglas V. O'Dell, approached me. He told me that I had delivered the finest eulogy he had ever heard and that I had truly honored Brian. He also asked me if I had ever thought about becoming a Marine officer, to which I answered, "Yes." He then told me he would do anything to make that a reality. The general kept his word. He made it a point to take care of me, an obscure lance corporal from Ohio, because we both shared the title of United States Marine.
I tell this story for a couple of reasons. First, it comes with the hope that readers will look up Brian's story and carry it with them in their hearts. Second, the story sums up the importance of my role as a Marine officer, not only in the context of history, but also in light of current events. Marines take care of each other. We always have, and we always will.
We carry on the traditions of those who have gone before us. From Archibald Henderson to John Lejeune, from Dan Daly to Jason Dunham, it has always been that way. We fight and die for each other. We honor the men and women who have paid for our right to wear the Marine uniform with their own blood, sweat, and tears. Semper Fidelis is not merely a motto for a Marine; it is a way of life. All of this is very easily said but much more difficult to actually embody.
What It All Means
The importance of being a Marine Corps officer is the same today as it has always been throughout the service's history. Nothing else matters. It is a simple concept that I hold dear to my heart. I must give my Marines everything I have and then some. I must train harder, be willing to sacrifice more, hold myself to the highest standard, and set an example for each of my subordinates.
If I am going to send them into harm's way, I must ensure that I give them the greatest opportunity to succeed. I must also ensure that I have given my Marines the greatest training possible and that I have left nothing to question or chance. As officers, we owe that much to each and every parent of a Marine and to the individual Marines themselves. We have to be able to look their parents in the eye and tell them that their son's or daughter's sacrifice was not a waste. We have to be able to do this without the guilt of knowing that we failed one of our Marines.
For some midshipmen selected as Marine officers, being commissioned as a Marine is the cool thing to do. For others it is just the next step in the natural progression of attending the Naval Academy. For me, it is much different. It is carrying on a legacy that two brothers began forging on Parris Island and solidified while serving together in Iraq. When I receive my commission as a Marine second lieutenant, it will not be me alone receiving it. Instead, Brian will be there, too. It will be a small victory for two brothers who were separated by the realities of war. We will eventually be reunited the day we assume our post guarding the streets of heaven, side by side, as brothers, as Marines.
Second Lieutenant Montgomery received his commission on 28 May. He will attend The Basic School at Quantico, Virginia, and hopes to be selected as a Marine infantry officer.