Sadly, now I know his first name

Three years ago this summer, I drove to Camp Lejeune on a Friday afternoon to pick up my son. He’d been granted a “96″ — four days of leave — and because he’s a collector of strays I wasn’t surprised, when I arrived, to find a second passenger awaiting me: another young Marine who needed a lift to Raleigh. He was introduced to me simply as Damas. (Marine grunts, I learned early on, deal almost exclusively in last names.)

My son and Damas tossed their gear into the trunk and climbed in the car. It turned out that Damas had a brother in Charlotte, and that the bus station in Raleigh had been designated as their meet-up spot. Both my son and Damas were in the middle of infantry school prior to their first deployments to Iraq, and I listened as they talked about their training. Where my son is Southern and self-effacing, Damas was from New York City and brashly confident. They seemed like an odd pair of buddies. Then again, the Marine Corps is a perfect meritocracy in the sense that its most capable members are quickly identified and acknowledged. The two young Marines in my car were some of those: They were already good at the job of harnessing lethality, and knew it. So of course they’d be pals. In that line of work, cultural differences always give way to competence.

It was well after dark by the time we arrived at the Raleigh bus station. Damas’ brother wasn’t there yet, and a cell phone call revealed he was still at least an hour away. We were in for a long night. Marines don’t leave each other on the battlefield, nor do they leave each other in bus stations. As the evening crept slowly toward midnight, we waited in the car. I didn’t mind. I like the idea that Marines look after each other.

Eventually a pair of headlights loomed in my rearview mirror. Damas got out, transferred his gear from my car to his brother’s, and they set off for Charlotte. He and my son ended up in different battalions after their infantry training, so I never ran into him again. In fact, it was only a few days ago that I learned his first name: Leopold.

You probably know where this is going. The reason I learned his full name is because I read it in the newspaper. Lance Corporal Leopold Damas was killed Aug. 17 by the Taliban in Afghanistan. This war is now personal.

I wish I could remember whether I shook his hand. I hope I did.

9 Responses to “Sadly, now I know his first name”

  1. Dee Says:

    Yes, I knew where that story was going, but that didn’t stop me from crying at the end.
    You may not remember, Dan, but I’ll bet you shook his hand. That’s who you are.
    Prays to Damas’ friends and family.

  2. Doug Says:

    My condolences to the Damas family and their friends - which include you and Evan. This past Friday, I attended the graduation ceremony at Parris Island of another young Marine recruit as my 18 year old nephew joined the few and the proud. It was my second graduation ceremony as I had the honor of watching your son graduate just a few years ago. The war became more personal then and it has become even more so now.

  3. Rick Says:

    We, too, went to the Parris Island graduation of a friend’s son about 18 months ago. We feel very close to all of this even though our friends’ son has yet to be deployed (we’re glad and the young Marine is dismayed because, of course, that’s why he joined the Marines).

    Sympathies to the Damas family.

  4. John Says:

    My mother came of age during WWII. She grew up in Tacoma, Washington. Attended Stadium High School. If you (or your teenager) ever saw TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, that’s Stadium High. Sits atop a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound. Used to be a hotel before it became Stadium High. It’s a pretty setting - at least it is in the movie.

    Mom said that recruits from nearby Fort Lewis used Stadium’s swimming pool for training sometimes. It always caused a big stir when the troops came to Stadium. They were glad to see the school girls and the feeling was mutual. Something about a young man in uniform I guess.

    My mom kept up with a lot of the boys from Stadium after they were shipped overseas. Army and Army Air Corps mostly went to Europe. Marines and Navy to the Pacific. She had a couple scrap books. I nosed through them a time or two.

    She corresponded with a number of guys. In her scrapbooks, there were letters she’d received from some of them. And often, a notice that one was killed in action, clipped from the local paper, was saved too.

    There’s an old line from M.A.S.H the TV show. Col. Blake is consoling Hawkeye about the death of a young soldier. He said something to the effect that the first rule of war is that young men die. The second rule of war is that there’s nothing anybody can do about the first rule.

    Rules may be rules, but it sure as hell doesn’t make it any easier to accept them.

  5. Sheila Says:

    Wow, that’s so sad. And I am also quite sure you shook his hand.

  6. Barbara Says:

    it is always a familiar story for many of us “seasoned parents”. Damas was with my son the last 2 deployments to Iraq. You may be interested in knowing that the family will be bringing him home to Charlotte to be buried. I was notified last night about the change in plans. Memorial is in NY but he is coming home to Charlotte Sunday, with a graveside service on Monday. As a Marine Dad, there is no doubt in my mind that you shook his hand and wished him well…..the moms always hug!!!!

  7. Sandra Casella Says:

    My son just got home from 14 months in Iraq, his best buddy Nick (who I met and yelled at because he was going on how he wasn’t going to make it home from Iraq)…well he lost both his legs to an IED and another was killed 2 months before they were to come home. So I know what you mean when you say it becomes personal. And not just personal to the people you meet, suddenly every soldiers death becomes personal. I am sure you shook his hand, it’s just the natural thing to do for people we are so proud of.

    I work the RDU USO and I wonder how many have I met that will not return. Did I meet Lance Corporal Damas…My thoughts are with him and his family…I love our soldiers, and working with them is the best feeling I every had.

  8. AUNT BOBBY Says:

    MY SYMPATHIES TO THE DAMAS FAMILY AND TO YOU AND YOUR SON. IT IS A SORROWFUL TIME. MY TWO BROTHERS WERE WORLD WAR 2 MARINES AND MY GRANDSON RETURNED HOME SAFELY FROM IRAQ A YEAR AGO. I UNDERSTAND THE FEARS AND THE SEMPER FI. ONCE A MARINE ALWAYS A MARINE!

    THE ONLY THING WE CAN DO IS TO SAY PRAYERS AND THANK ALL UNIFORMED MEN AND WOMEN AND VETERANS AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY.

  9. DM Wright Says:

    A moving story. One never knows how things will play out when two people cross paths so simply. Small things turn into lifelong memories.
    Lance Cpl. Damas was buried near here today, and his funeral received what seems an unusual amount of attention from local media. I had to wonder if your story had something to do with that. It was still less than he deserved.

    I’m sure you shook his hand, and that he called you “Sir”.