Saturday, April 2, 2011

Semper Fi

Dressed in the Red, White and Blue 
by April Mahoney

Only eighteen, a baby 
but ready to prove himself as a man
He entered through the side door, 
his cover placed precisely in his left hand
I say congratulations, 
he replies, “Thank You, Ma’am”
Just graduated from Marine Corps boot camp

His face now has a different resolve
Awaiting orders to his next duty call

I see him again 16 months later, 
this time a hidden smile 
and a missing limb
Head, eyes bowed following his chin

He is forever proud, 
Hoorah, Semper Fi
Always faithful 
until the day they die.

My friend April wrote this poem. Some of you know I had the pleasure of helping her edit about a hundred of her poems into a book, Utter Magic, that she self-published and has had great success with. She was inspired to write this poem while working at her other job at a cosmetic counter at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot department store in San Diego. It's one of those strange places where families who have come to town from all over the country to watch their young Marines transition from boot camp to the world of war stop in for discounted designer lip gloss, perfume, and foundation. She would talk about how it would break her heart to see these young "kids," as she would call them, come in on crutches or in wheel chairs. April's husband served 20 years in the US Navy, so she understands the idea of serving one's country, but it doesn't make seeing the wounds of these young men and women any easier.

Nick & Clay at our wedding
Today I found out the sad news that the wounds of war are likely a contributing factor in the loss of another young Marine. Our friend Clay Hunt, who Nick grew up hunting and fishing with in Texas, took his own life earlier this week. I don't know the details, and at this point, knowing them won't make any difference. Clay went to our high school in Houston and was in our youth group. He wandered a bit after high school, trying out colleges in Texas, North Carolina, and Colorado, if I recall, with none of them sticking. He joined the Marine Corps and found great friends but had an overall difficult experience. He lost several close friends in combat. He got shot in the hand by an enemy sniper, an injury that earned him a Purple Heart. And he even returned to Afghanistan for another deployment after healing from being shot. He served honorably, but his scars were deep. In a Facebook note he posted in January, he writes:

"My physical wounds are unnoticeable, and I quickly learned how to deal with the pain that is constantly in my wrist, just by changing the way I use my hand- push with a closed fist, and try not to do anything that makes my hand bend backward. The mental wounds are far more apparent, and have proven much more difficult to deal with, but I have figured out how to make them hurt less- and not with drugs or alcohol like so many vets I know do- like I used to for a time."

Clay has been out of the Marines for a couple years. We last saw him in San Diego two summers ago when we invited him down to go sailing with us. He was in school at the time in Los Angeles and soon got involved with two groups where he seemed to find his new life purpose: Ride2Recovery, a wounded veterans group that rides bicycles across America and Team Rubicon, a grassroots disaster response agency that took Clay to Haiti and Chile after their devastating earthquakes.

It's difficult to make the leap between this seemingly promising post-service life and today's devastating news. And it's certainly not my place to speculate where the break in the system was along the way to lead to such a final solution. So I will divert from that since I suppose it's possible that we will never know or understand what haunted him so. Instead, I think it's appropriate to honor Clay the best way I know how... with words. 

I know Nick spent more time with Clay than I did in all their hunting and fishing endeavors, but my favorite memory with Clay is from two days after Nick and I got married. Clay was in Houston for the wedding and was heading back to San Diego, where he had just finished some pretty grueling training with the Marines. Nick left on a flight early that Monday morning after we got married. He had to get back to BUD/S where he was about to start training. I flew out to join him later that afternoon. When I got to the airport, I was pleasantly surprised to see a friendly face. Clay and his mom were sitting at one of the open air cafes. I joined them and soon figured out Clay was on my same flight to San Diego. It was a Southwest flight so we chose seats next to each other and spent the length of the three-hour flight catching up on everything. It was nice to have a friend by my side on that journey.

Clay lived passionately. He searched for justice. He served this country selflessly. And when his service to country had ended, he turned his sights to serve the world in its times and places of greatest need. He packed a lot of life in his 28 years and though he battled valiantly, he ultimately lost the fight against the demons of war. I think all of us who knew him will always wonder why he couldn't stay longer. He gave so much... and had so much more to give.

Thoughts and prayers are with his family for comfort and healing.  

He is forever proud, 
Hoorah, Semper Fi
Always faithful 
until the day they die.


  1. Peyt, I'm so sorry. That is definitely some of the worst news anyone should ever receive, it sounds like Clay was someone I would have loved to meet.

  2. Oh Honey, I feel for you and Nick. Thank you for honorning him with my poetry. That is why I write to speak for those who can't speak for themselves. Send his family my best and remember that God is good even in the mist of a storm !!

  3. Beautifully written, Peyt.

  4. Hearts broken and heads bowed, all who were connected with Clay will remember him with great fondness mingled with regret that there was nothing we could do to help him face his "demons of war." You and Nick both have my prayers and admiration, especially in this time of great sorrow. Thank you for your wonderful words! Thomas

  5. Peyton-- this is a touching tribute to an American hero. I'm so sorry to hear of this tragedy. My prayers are with all those whose lives this young man touched. Thank you for sharing.


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