On the wall of my office are pictures of four young men. They are smiling the way people in their twenties do when the world is a river of possibilities stretching ahead. I have never met them, and never will, but I miss them every day.
Jesse Strong, Chris Weaver, Karl Linn, and Jonathan Bowling. Marines. Two years ago this month they all died in Iraq in an ambush on the banks of the Euphrates River.
As we pass the milestone of 3,000 fatalities in Iraq, it troubles me that there is simply not enough time in the world to tell the stories of all who have served and died in Iraq and Afghanistan, although their stories certainly deserve to be told and remembered.
So for the past few months I have been reconstructing the story of just these four men: Strong, Weaver, Linn and Bowling.
I've looked at their lives, their deaths, and the enormous impact they had on everyone around them. I have visited with their families; talked to brothers and sisters, friends, fiances, neighbors. I have read the military reports on how they died, and talked at length with other Marines who stood with them on that terrible night when the darkness erupted with bullets and rockets. I have stood in the homes these young men left behind, and knelt beside their graves.
And I have sat in my office here night after night, often until 3:00 in the morning, staring at their pictures and trying to write their story. It is easier at night, when no one is knocking at the door, no one calling, no e-mails; nothing to disturb the profound sadness that surrounds the events that took their lives.
History will judge the rights and the wrongs of this war, but whether you are in favor of it or not, you need to know the story of these men. Maybe because stories such as this help the war remain real and visceral; not abstract numbers and names flying through the news. Maybe because these four young men willingly did what their country asked them to do ... what we asked them to do ... and because they did it with courage, faith and honor. Maybe you should know their story, because we can't know all of the stories of all the thousands who have died.
So tonight we will tell the story of these four Marines. And once you know them, I suspect you too will miss them every day.