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Remembering a Friend on Memorial Day

By Thomas Newton, Marketing Director, D&Y Staffing, Spectrum Healthcare Resources

I was fortunate enough to represent Spectrum Healthcare Resources at the Heroes of Military Medicine Awards at the National Cathedral a few weeks ago. When I’m in or around the Washington D.C., area, I make it a point to stop and visit Arlington National Cemetery. As the co-chair of the Veterans Resource Group, I had been asked to write a blog for Memorial Day, so the timing couldn’t have been better. It’s easy to write out a few words about sacrifice and talk about the history of Memorial Day and what it means, and I could’ve crafted that here and moved on. However, given that I can personally attribute what Memorial Day means to me, I wanted to share his story.

Brian’s Story

Brian Scott Letendre was one of the best friends I ever had. We met freshman year of college. He was a soccer player with an infectious personality. Brian never had a bad day and seemingly had an endless amount of energy. We were connected at the hip; he was the class President while I served as Vice President. We took trips on the weekends together, and he would occasionally come home with me as well. After freshman year, we both transferred to different schools, but oddly enough, they were in the same place – Johnson City, Tennessee. We stayed in touch, and he soon met his future wife, a soccer player named Autumn. Brian eventually graduated in 2000, while I had moved to Nashville.

I knew his next phase was to become a Marine officer, so I wasn’t sure when I would see him again. A few months after he graduated, I got a call saying he wanted to get together in Nashville before shipping out to Officer Candidacy School in Quantico. We went out to dinner, where I asked many questions about the military, why he wanted to spend his life serving when there wasn’t even a war and how boring I imagined that would be. Being a Marine had been his boyhood dream, and he knew that’s the path he was to take.

My Enlistment

Brian went off to training, and it was in September of the following year that we would speak again, but in a much different situation. September 11 had just happened, and I had a choice about what to do with the next several years of my life. I had already decided I was going to join the military but was unsure of the branch to serve in. That’s when I called Brian to get his feedback, and the gist of that call was, “I could join any branch, but if it’s not the Marines I would hear about it the rest of my life.” So that day, I left college and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on the advice of my long-time friend.

The next couple of years were chaotic, with both of us deploying and moving around. We finally reconnected in a Jacksonville, North Carolina, restaurant where I met with Brian and his wife, Autumn, who was now pregnant with their first child. He had been all over the world including a tour in Guantanamo Bay and Okinawa, Japan. He was also awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a combat “V” for valor from a deployment to Iraq in 2003. Meanwhile, I had one deployment to Iraq under my belt and was getting ready to head out for another in 2005. Soon after, Brian ended up in Plainville, Connecticut, with a newborn baby boy, Dillon.

What Memorial Day Means

When I deployed to Iraq the second time, it was challenging to keep communication with Brian. Unbeknownst to me, he was making plans to return to help train Iraqi forces. His unit wasn’t deploying, nor was he asked; he volunteered to return this time. My tour wrapped up, and I returned home on May 5, 2006. On that very same day, Brian was conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province and was killed when a suicide vehicle ran the checkpoint and exploded near him.

Brian and the 656,000 others that “gave their all” in service of this country is what Memorial Day means to me. His sacrifice will never be forgotten. For this and so much more, I’m thankful I had the opportunity to spend a few hours visiting my old friend.

Read more stories from our associates, clinicians and the communities we serve.