A Soldier can Never Die in Vain


Navy Lieutenant Mike Murphy.

Petty Officer Second Class Matt Axelson.

Petty Officer Second Class Danny Dietz.

These Navy SEALs died in 2005 as part of Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan. Their sacrifices were meaningful, same as those of any soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine that dies on the fields of unfriendly strife.

These three hallowed men mattered to the battle’s lone survivor, Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Marcus Luttrell — mattered so much that an interviewer’s suggestion the SEALs deaths were “senseless” prompted Luttrell’s seething response: “[Are you] telling me because we were over there doing what we were told by our country that it was senseless and my guys died for nothing?” Shortly thereafter, Army veteran Jim Gourley penned a provocative essay answering Luttrell’s rhetorical question: “Yes Marcus. Your friends died in vain.”

The phrase in vain flies off the page like a bloody shirt up a giant flagpole. Gourley’s core logic is that if the war, battle, or military judgment was wrong, then the soldier’s death was in vain. As far as courage is concerned, he notes, “however honorably a soldier acquits himself, he can die in vain.” His targets are chickenhawk leaders and apathetic America, a “country that abandoned its civic duty.” And Gourley finds, “the sooner we acknowledge [these conclusions], the more lives we might save.”

Read the Remainder at War on the Rocks