I didn’t know him very well. I only saw him occasionally at family holidays, a quiet kid, a gawky teenager, a young Marine. I knew his father and his grandfather. In high school, my first date was with his father. Then, many years later, his widowed grandfather married my mother.
He came from a Marine Corps family. His great-grandfather commanded the 8th Marines in combat at Guadalcanal before becoming Force Marine operations and training officer for the Atlantic Fleet during WWII, taking part in the landings at Sicily and Normandy. His grandfather fought at Iwo Jima in WWII and later in Korea and Vietnam. And he himself fought in the Iraq war, helping to take Baghdad. He had four deployments to Iraq. Then two to Afghanistan. Living war for nearly a decade.
In The Iliad, Homer lavishes his attention on the details of battle, not just the arete, or battle prowess, of the warriors, but also the gruesome details, the assault on bodies, the descent into death. And though he valorizes the great warriors, such as Diomedes, Menelaus, Patroclus, and the greatest of all, the Trojan Hector and the Myrmidon Achilles, the blind poet also sings of the dead. He names them, he tells us stories that identify them, to give them life, to honor them:
“The fair youth Simoeisius, son of Anthemion, whom his mother bore by the banks of the Simois, as she was coming down from Mt. Ida, where she had been with her parents to see their flocks. Therefore he was named Simoeisius, but he did not live to pay his parents for his rearing, for he was cut off untimely by the spear of mighty Ajax. . .”
“Scamandrius the son of Strophius, a mighty huntsman and keen lover of the chase. Diana herself had taught him how to kill every kind of wild creature that is bred in mountain forests, but neither she nor his famed skill in archery could now save him, for the spear of Menelaus struck him in the back as he was flying. . .”
“Xanthus and Thoon, the two sons of Phaenops, both of them very dear to him, for he was now worn out with age, and begat no more sons to inherit his possessions. But Diomedes took both their lives and left their father sorrowing bitterly, for he nevermore saw them come home from battle alive, and his kinsmen divided his wealth among themselves.”
I didn’t know him very well. As a boy, he had a shy smile. He signed up for the Marines at seventeen, thirteen years ago. He fought well in Iraq. His parents had such a joyful homecoming party for him. He grew into a man. He married. He went to war, again and again. And on August 10, 2012, at age 31, he died, shot to death along with two other Special Forces soldiers in an ambush at a dinner with tribal leaders in southern Afghanistan.
R.I.P. Gunnery Sergeant Ryan Jeschke. Semper Fi.