Julius Ballanco, PE
We sometimes forget that the United States is at war. Many of our young women and men are serving faithfully in our military overseas. They are in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On April 16, 2007, the war hit home. Marine 1st Lieutenant Shaun Blue was killed during a combat operation in the Anbar province of Iraq. Shaun was one of my Boy Scouts. With my editor’s approval, I would like to dedicate my column to Shaun.
I was out to dinner with colleagues in Syracuse when my wife called me with the sad news. She was crying and finding it difficult to speak. I didn’t hear her at first. Then I thought she said something else. As it sank in, if felt like someone stabbed a knife through my heart. The pain was tremendous; it still is.
For some reason, I thought of all the other families and friends of the more than 3,500 soldiers that have died defending our country since the war on terrorism began. I now know their pain.
Shaun was a special kid to me. I first met him when he was 9 years old. Shaun was a Cub Scout, and his older brother Dan was a member of our troop. His mother, Debbie, was one of the Cub Scout leaders, while his father, Jim, was one of the troop’s assistant Scoutmasters. Jim and Debbie always told me that Shaun was a wild kid. When he joined our troop at age 11, I was told that I would have my hands full with Shaun.
In a way, everyone seemed to expect Shaun to be more like his older brother Dan. But he wasn’t. I knew that, more than most of the other Scouters, since I had five brothers, all of us different in many ways. I treated Shaun like an individual, not like a younger brother.
I would often challenge the Scouts with a Scoutmaster’s challenge. Shaun was always up to a challenge. He thrived on challenges. I watched him excel and become a good leader. He eventually was elected senior patrol leader. That is the highest position of Scout leadership. The senior patrol leader runs the troop, not the Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster just observes and gives tips.
At the end of each Scout meeting, the Scoutmaster is given one minute to impart knowledge to the Scouts. It is called the Scoutmaster’s Minute. I always tried to inspire the Scouts with love of country, patriotism, love of family, and love of God. Shaun always got it. He was a very smart kid.
In high school, Shaun stayed involved with the troop while being involved in many other activities. He ran cross-country and track. Boy could Shaun run! He was also a wrestler. I attended many of Shaun’s track meets since my daughter was running on the girls’ track team.
Shaun made it to the state finals in the 800 meters. All the while, he never forgot about his studies. He finished in the top 10 of his class at Munster High. That is an incredible feat since Munster is such an academically competitive high school.
Shaun could have gone anywhere and been anything. He chose University of Southern California. It appeared strange, to some, for a kid with strong midwestern roots to go to Southern California. But I saw it as another challenge for Shaun.
Shaun went through ROTC, being commissioned an officer in the U.S. Marines upon graduation. I knew the Marines were a perfect fit for Shaun. He would be an excellent officer.
Shaun volunteered for overseas duty. Having served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, I can tell you that every officer realizes that part of the duty they accept is the possibility of being killed. If you have never been there, it is hard to explain. You accept the possibility of death because of your love for your country and your fellow man. You also know that you are a part of a country that is giving selflessly to help others in the world to be free. What you are doing is right, for all the right reasons.
Shaun was on his second tour of duty to Iraq. He was killed in a combat operation when he had gone to the aid of one of his troops. That was so like Shaun.
When I was explaining the death of Shaun to colleagues, a few came up to me and said that they didn’t support the war. My response was that the members of the military hate war more than you do. But they fight in the war out of a sense of obligation. They do it so you don’t have to, so that you have the right to say that you oppose it. But most of all, they do it to protect your freedom. They are everything that is good about this great country of ours.
History will record us as the kindest, most giving nation in the world, willing to sacrifice for everyone’s freedom. That sacrifice hurts many families and friends. I will have a sense of loss for my entire life.
It was wonderful to see such a large outpouring at Shaun’s wake and funeral. Munster, Ind., is a close-knit community. The average wait in line was an hour and a half. The funeral was standing room only.
We will never forget our fallen soldier. On June 16, 2007, Munster celebrates its Centennial with a picnic hosted by Troop 533, Shaun’s troop. The troop will be celebrating their 80th anniversary on the same day. Imagine 80 years of continuous Scouting in a community.
The picnic had already been planned for Veterans Park. The park is a wonderful tribute to all veterans, with displays highlighting all of the wars since 1900. On that day, a memorial will be unveiled to 1st Lt. Shaun Blue, United States Marines. If you are in the Chicago area, please stop by the picnic. Please pay tribute to Shaun.
When you retire each evening, say a prayer for all the women and men in our military. Also say a prayer for the families and loved ones of those that have lost their lives. They deserve our tribute.
God bless you, Shaun. Semper Fi!