It was August 9th, 2009 and I had been back from Afghanistan for 2 years and was still a Navy reservist. I was speaking at a Brick Layers Association conference at the University of Notre Dame. I remember being picked up at the airport and as I was collecting my bags I saw on the tv a news story from Afghanistan and my mind went blank for a second as I spaced out looking at the tv. When I finally snapped out of the story on the tv I said to my host, ‘I am sorry. I am in the Navy and was in Afghanistan and that story just caught my attention.’
My host replied, ‘Really? You served in Afghanistan? We have a Navy SEAL speaking tomorrow who also served in Afghanistan.’ My jaw dropped and eyes got as big as saucers. Without hesitation I asked, ‘Marcus Luttrell?’ He said, ‘Yeah, how did you know?’
How did I know? Are you kidding me? Well there is no other SEAL at that time who would be giving a speech famous for Afghanistan.
In 2005 (in case you haven’t heard the story) Marcus and his 4 man SEAL team faced overwhelming odds and Marcus was the ‘Lone Survivor’. In 2007, while I was deployed to Afghanistan I read his book Lone Survivor detailing the battle. I will confess I don’t read many books but I was captivated. I was reading a boo.k about a battle that occurred in the country I was currently in only 2 years prior.
Now fast forward to 2009 and I was about to speak at the same event as Marcus. During my time on stage at the Brick Layers conference I didn’t ‘spill the beans’ or ‘steal Marcus’s thunder’ but I talked him up big to the audience and I changed my flights so I could stay and listen to Marcus the next day. Not only that after my speech I went back to my room and wrote Marcus a hand written letter telling him how inspired I was by him. In retrospect it was so CORNY. But I admired him so much.
I took the letter down to the front desk of the hotel to leave for him when he checked in and guess what….HE WAS THERE CHECKING IN!! I was so nervous and my voice cracked when I said, ‘Excuse me? Marcus?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’
‘Marcus my name is Ron White and I was the speaker today.’
‘Oh yeah Ron. They told me you really talked about me. I hope I live up to the expectations you set.’ (of course he would. Humble guy)
Then he went into Navy SEAL mode. He started gathering intel:
‘Can you give me some intel? Demographics, size of group, your feel for the group?’
I couldn’t help but smile. In the Navy I was an intelligence specialist and here I was giving one of the most famous Navy SEALs of all time intel for his speech!
I told him about my service and he thanked me for my service. I shook my head and said, ‘No sir. I didn’t do anything. Thank y.ou’ I was so fidgety and didn’t know what to say and I said such a dumb thing next. I said, ‘Korengal Valley?’ He looked at me and said, ‘Yep.’
That was were his battle was and his friends died. Why the hell I put that in the conversation I’ll never know. So awkward and didn’t make any sense but I was nervous. I excused myself and as I walked back to my room thought, ‘I just met Marcus Luttrell.’ I was also thinking ,’Korengal Valley? What the hell was that all about? Just wanted to show him you knew a little about Afghanistan too huh? You nervous putz.’
The next day I watched him give his speech and I could tell how hard it was for him to tell the story of his best friends losing their lives. I knew it was painful for him. After the speech he was cordial at the boo.k signing to everyone but not overly friendly. You know what? I had zero problem with that. He had just relived the death of his 3 closest friends. He was professional, humble and a decent man.
The time he took with me when he was checking into the hotel to thank me for my service and quiz me on intel for the speech was priceless to me. I am the biggest Marcus Luttrell fan and honored to have served in the same Navy as he did even if our service was nowhere near the same. His service made mine look like a trip to Disneyland but he still thanked me for my service.
Every time I do the Afghanistan Memory Wall www.americasmemory.com I write the names of the men who died on his mission and I will continue to honor his friends.
In his book and speech, he tells the story of how Lt Michael Murphy, PO2 Matthew Axelson and PO2 Danny Dietz never gave up. That was his message. Very inspiring.
A few years later I spoke to a group of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighters. One of them said Marcus had come into his gym and was completely humble never mentioned he was a SEAL or Marcus Luttrell it wasn’t until Marcus trained there for a while they discovered who he was. As I was talking with this MMA guy he texted Marcus and asked Marcus if he remembered me. Marcus replied that he did. I don’t know if he did or not but I do know Marcus is a gentlemen and said he did.
If you haven’t seen the movie Lone Survivor….GO.