Brothers Forever

By Tom Sileo and Col. Tom Manion, USMCR (Ret.)

Da Capo. 265 pp. $25.99

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Reviewed by Paul Davis

In James A. Michener's 1953 novel The Bridges of Toko-Ri, a carrier jet pilot and two rescue helicopter pilots are killed in action during the Korean War. Upon hearing of the pilots' deaths, the carrier task force admiral wonders why America was lucky enough to have such men.

"Where do we get such men?" the admiral asks himself.

Brothers Forever is a book that may answer that question. It's a book one should read to learn more about the military people who volunteer to serve and sacrifice their lives in America's far-off conflicts.

The book offers the compelling and tragic story of the lives and deaths of a young Marine officer, Travis Manion, and a young Navy SEAL officer, Brendan Looney. The book is written by syndicated columnist Tom Sileo, along with Manion's father, Tom Manion, a retired Marine colonel from Doylestown. Retired Marine Gen. John Allen, a former commandant at the Naval Academy, wrote the foreword.

"They had been roommates at the United States Naval Academy, growing up together at this most hallowed institution of our naval service. They had faced the challenges of Navy and had emerged committed in ways few can understand without experiencing the powerful formative forces of Annapolis," Allen wrote. "And in their sense of duty and their desire, one sought to be a Marine, the other a SEAL. Remembering the times, it didn't take a fortune-teller to guess where this would lead them both: to war in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or both. And to war it did lead them, extracting from them long separations from their families as they grew into the full realization of their roles as combat leaders. But it also extracted from them their last full measure - their young lives - willingly sacrificed for their country and these causes."

In spring 2001 the two freshmen met at the Naval Academy and began a lifelong friendship. Looney, who hailed from Maryland and was a die-hard Washington Redskins fan, met Manion, a Pennsylvania native and die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fan.

Despite the football rivalry, the two athletes - Manion, a wrestler, and Looney, a football player - found they were kindred spirits and later became roommates at the academy.

The book provides us with the backstory of these two young warriors, detailing their lives, their hardships and sacrifices, and their efforts to excel as athletes, students, and budding military leaders. The book also introduces us to their families and covers Looney's romance with his future wife.

Manion and Looney were at the Naval Academy on Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, and like most of the country, watched President George W. Bush address a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001.

"Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution," Bush told the nation. "Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done."

The two future combat officers were members of the young generation that heard the call to arms.

After graduating from the academy, Manion  opted to become a Marine officer like his father. Looney went on to become a naval intelligence officer and later a SEAL.

While serving on his second deployment to Iraq in 2007, 1st Lt. Travis Manion, 26, was killed by a sniper's bullet while fighting in Anbar province.

Manion's family grieved for their young warrior, as did his former roommate who was in training to become a SEAL. Manion's mother had bracelets made for the family and she gave one to Looney.

The bracelet was engraved:

1st Lt. Travis Manion, USMC Spartan, Hero, Leader KIA Iraqi Freedom, 20 Apr. '07

On Sept. 21, 2010, Lt. Brendan Looney, 29, died in a helicopter crash in Zabul province, Afghanistan. He was wearing the bracelet.

The two young warriors now rest side by side in Arlington National Cemetery.

This is much more than a book about war. This is also a book about friendship, family, military culture, and patriotism.

Brothers Forever is a tragic, yet somehow also uplifting story of two young men, two warriors, who lost their lives on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and now lie together forever at Arlington National Cemetery.