October 21, 2017

“If not me, then who?” – 1st Lt Travis Manion, USMC

This weekend, a few of our THD friends are running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. in memory of their fallen brothers and sisters. For this week’s “Story Saturday” we share the stories of two fallen heroes.

Brothers Forever: How Two Friends Came to Rest Side by Side at Arlington National Cemetery

When best friends Travis Manion and Brendan Looney died defending their country, their families honored their unbreakable bond in the most profound of ways: by laying them to rest side by side at Arlington National Cemetery. 
On Memorial Day 2004, Travis Manion, a newly commissioned Marine officer, went to cheer on his roommate and best friend, Brendan Looney, at the national lacrosse championship in Baltimore. It was an emotional afternoon. Three days earlier, both men had graduated from the United States Naval Academy, and now they expected to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. “You will face many enormous challenges,” Air Force general Richard Myers, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told their class. “You will go into harm’s way. The sacrifice, [which] you have learned by now, is part of the job description.”
Then, as today, we were a nation at war. That made Navy the sentimental favorite in the final against Syracuse University. Travis sat with his classmates. His parents sat with Brendan’s parents. Rain pounded the field as the lead flipped back and forth, with Navy’s fans chanting “U-S-A.” The teams were tied with five minutes to go. Then Syracuse pulled ahead and won, 14–13.
While most of Navy’s players hit the bars of nearby Annapolis, the two close friends—along with Brendan’s brother Steve and future wife Amy—retreated to a house that Travis’s parents owned near campus. Brendan and Travis weren’t the type of guys who talked openly about their feelings. But Brendan privately confessed how gloomy he felt about the loss, and Travis knew his buddy needed a boost. So he put on a cowboy hat and a camouflage poncho and cranked up a Michael Jackson tune. Looking ridiculous, he and Brendan’s brother began break-dancing in the kitchen.
“Brendan and I were laughing,” recalls Amy Looney. “Travis was putting on his extra charm. He was trying to do what he could to cheer up his best friend.” Everyone’s spirits rose until they were ready to join the rest of the team for a night of carousing in town.
Taking over the back of a downtown bar, they celebrated having made it to the national championship for the first time in decades—and, for the graduates among them, surviving the rigors of the Naval Academy. Though it was unspoken, they knew that much of their class would soon be going off to war. That night in Annapolis, remembers Amy, “was the last hurrah.”
The friendship that formed at the Naval Academy between Brendan and Travis surprised nobody. Both were accomplished athletes: Travis wrestled and Brendan played football before switching to lacrosse. Both had wicked comic sides. And both loved their country and believed in sacrifice.
Brendan came from a large, close-knit Catholic family from Owings, Md. Of the six siblings, all three brothers attended the Naval Academy and even played on the lacrosse team at the same time. The oldest, Brendan was a hulk: 200 muscular pounds and “chiseled like a Greek god,” says Ben Mathews, who played football with him there. And driven, always, to excel. “He did not spend a whole lot of time talking about things. He spent most of [his] time trying to outplay and outmuscle everybody. Brendan never, ever wanted to look like he was outperformed.”
Travis grew up Catholic, too. His father, Tom Manion, a retired colonel, spent 30 years in the Marine Corps, and Travis and his older sister Ryan were born at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The family moved around before settling in Doylestown, Pa. Travis was a “warrior-poet,” says Mathews. He kept on his desk a box of note cards on which he copied inspirational lines. “There were quotes from books, quotes from movies, about teamwork and leadership.” When Mathews asked about the cards, Manion said, “I take a little bit of everything that I read and try to incorporate that in my life.”

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