On this Memorial weekend, on behalf of our family I’d like to share a remembrance in celebration of our son’s life, Corporal from 2001-2005 as a Corporal/Squad Leader serving two tours in Iraq.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Zach’s passing. His son Luke, our grandson, has grown into a wonderful young man!
Below is a letter written to Luke in 2012 when he was very young after his Dad died, from one of the Marines in Zach’s squad – it’s so beautiful and means more to our family than he may ever realize. His letter to Luke demonstrates the sacrifice he and Zach made, their courage and moral compass to do the right thing at all times, when they were truly tested. We honor all of the young men and women who served our great country. Freedom is not free.
(Letter written June 22, 2012, by Corporal Matthew D. Bruning, USMC to our grandson, Zach’s son, Luke):
First off, I just want to tell you how very sorry I am for what you’ve been going through. I can only imagine how you must be feeling. You are a very young man but I know you carry the best parts of your Dad in you, and that you will grow up to be everything and more than all the dreams he had for you.
You see, you and I share something in all this. You have lost a father and I have lost a brother. Your Dad and I didn’t come from the same mother but we shared a portion of our lives together that made us closer than family. I served with your Dad in the Marine Corps. We were in the Iraq War together in 2004. Your Dad and I stood shoulder to shoulder in some of the toughest times of our lives. We laughed and joked around together. We sweated and bled together. We walked through a country of people trying their hardest to kill us. But, your Dad and I never had to worry all that much because he knew I would give everything I had to protect him and he would give everything he had to protect me. As you grow older and live some more years of your life, meet some more people and make a lifetime’s worth of friends, you’ll realize just how hard it is to find someone like that. People like your dad are more than one in a million. I’m not sure of the number, but they are very very rare.
So, moving on and getting to the point of all this, your Grandma Tina asked me if I would write you a letter. She wanted me to tell you a little bit about your Dad. I’m going to try and write this letter in a way that you can understand right now. But, I also want you to be able to look at this twenty or thirty years from now, when you have children of your own, and be able get something from it.
Your dad and I shipped out to Iraq early in 2004. After a few months in country, we were placed in a squad together. A “squad” is a team of Marines who all work together, sort of like a baseball team works together. There were ten of us on the squad. Your Dad was something called a Squad Leader. He was the Marine in charge of all of us. A Marine named Nick and I sort of served as your Dad’s right and left hand men.
Your Dad was a natural leader. He was a guy that people wanted to listen to. When he told us to do something, we always knew that it was the right thing for us to do. He had really good instincts that way. He was very brave. He never asked his men to do something that he wasn’t prepared to do himself. If we had to search a building, a building that at any given moment might have the enemy in it, he was always the first one in and the last one out. But the best thing about your dad was his very strong sense of right and wrong.
You see, war is a nasty business. It’s not like what you see on the television or in the movies. War is dirty. It’s a nasty, mean, violent mess fought by men like your Dad and I; men who are prepared to do what is necessary. But, in all that crazy mess, it’s very easy to get lost in it.
It’s really easy to get lost when you are carrying guns and bullets and bombs, dangerous weapons so heavy that they make your back and knees and shoulders and neck ache each and every second; things so heavy that when you take them off you feel so light that you think you might float away from the ground. It’s easy to get lost when you are tired and hungry and thirsty and scared and are so far away from home and all the people and things that you have ever loved. It’s easy to get lost when you have less time than it takes to blink your eyes to decide to save a life, take a life, or to give your own. It’s really easy to get lost when getting hurt or killed is so easy and there never seems to be a simple way to do what is right. It’s really easy to only think about keeping yourself alive and forget about things like honor, justice, compassion and kindness.
But, in spite of all of that, I want you to know more than anything, your Dad ALWAYS did what was right. He always told us to focus on doing the right thing. He always said that if we had to ask if we were doing the right thing, we probably weren’t. Doing good things makes you feel good. Luke, I know you’ve felt that warm and happy feeling in your belly, the feeling you only get from doing something good for someone else. That’s the feeling your Dad lived for. He loved doing good things. He wanted me and the other men in the squad to good things as well.
There was a time when your Dad and I were working at a small town called Al-Waleed. While we were there, I was talking to an Iraqi man. He suddenly reached out and tried to steal my gun from me. I stopped him from taking my gun . While I was stopping him, I hurt him a little bit and he had a tiny cut on his forehead. He was bleeding. Once I had stopped the Iraqi man and made sure he couldn’t try to hurt me anymore, I saw that I had hurt his head and I put a band-aid on his cut and gave him some water. Then, I looked over at your Dad standing right by me. He was smiling and nodding his head. Your Dad was happy that I was helping someone, even if it was the person who just tried to hurt me. Your Dad knew that it’s always right to help someone. It’s easy to help your friends. It’s hard to help people who don’t like you and are mean to you. But, it’s the right thing to do.
Luke, I’m going to tell you something your Dad told me when we first started working together. It’s something I’ve never forgotten. Your Dad made me a better person because of what he told me.
“Since we gotta be here, we might as well make the most of it. Here are my ground rules. If you see someone hungry, give em your food. If you see someone thirsty, give em your water. If you see someone bleeding, patch em up. That’s all I ask of you. Never pass up an opportunity to do the right thing.
Luke, I know that you won’t understand a lot of this yet, but you will someday. For now, I want you to know that your Dad loved you so much. He was a good man. He was a man you can be proud to call your Dad. He was my friend and my brother. He kept me alive when I should have died and he kept me right when it would have been so much easier to be wrong. Your Dad kept my soul right with God and for that, I owe him more than I can ever repay.
-Corporal Matthew D. Bruning, USMC
Thank you for taking this time to share in Zach’s memory with us. Our family will always be so proud of him and we miss him every moment of every single day, until God reunites us again one day.
We wish you a heartfelt Memorial Day weekend! May God bless the U.S.A.
Leon & Tina and our entire family
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