Face of Defense: Marine, Corpsman Pay Homage to Fallen Brother
By Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Casey Jones
Special to American Forces Press Service
FALLUJAH, Iraq, Oct. 9, 2008 Four years ago in the poverty-stricken neighborhoods here, Marines were attacked within minutes of beginning routine foot patrols. Fallujah’s citizens were strongly opposed to the presence of coalition forces, and a vicious insurgency devastated the city.
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Benjamin Swain, left, a corpsman with 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, and Marine Corps Maj. Jeffrey McCormack, operations officer for 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, stand at the site in Fallujah, Iraq, where Benjamin's brother, James, was killed in 2004. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Casey Jones
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
In 2004, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. James Swain, an intelligence specialist with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, was killed by a gunshot in one of the cities’ neighborhoods. Last month, Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Benjamin Swain, a corpsman with Battery M, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, from Kokomo, Ind., visited the site where his brother gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
“It felt as if I looked hard enough, I could see him there,” Benjamin said. “It all seemed surreal, and I'm honestly not too sure how I feel, but I do know I'm glad I went.”
Marine Corps Maj. Jeffrey McCormack, who was the intelligence officer for 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and is a native of Oak Forest, Ill., worked closely with James during their deployment together in 2004 and was nearby when the shooting occurred.
McCormack, now the operations officer for 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 1, contacted the Swain family shortly after James’ death and regularly keeps in touch with them.
A few months into McCormack’s current deployment, he discovered Benjamin was deployed to Fallujah — only minutes away from his old living quarters. McCormack quickly contacted Benjamin via e-mail, and they planned to meet.
“Once I found out Ben was near Camp Fallujah, I set up a dinner with him after one of my meetings,” McCormack said. “During the dinner, I asked Benjamin if he was interested in going to the alleyway where his brother was killed.”
After some coordination, the two set out to visit the site.
They first visited the rooftop of a building formerly occupied by coalition forces. The roof of the building was the last place McCormack saw James alive.
The night before James left for what was to be his last mission, McCormack asked James if he had any pictures of himself from the deployment. James said no, and McCormack pulled out his digital camera and snapped a few shots of him on the rooftop.
“I immediately recognized the area from the pictures,” Benjamin said. “Being there and just being able to see the places where he spent his last hours meant being able to connect with him in some way.”
Benjamin and McCormack stood on the roof reminiscing about James. McCormack pointed out various sites in the city and told Benjamin the sequence of events leading up to James’ death.
They looked over the city one last time before setting out on a foot patrol with Marines from 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, to the site where James was shot.
Iraqis smiled and waved as the patrol made its way to the alleyway. The friendly atmosphere was vastly different from the one James and McCormack experienced four years ago.
Benjamin said every day he sees the progress resulting from the sacrifice his brother and thousands of others have made, and that their loss is not in vain.
“I've never thought his death was in vain,” Benjamin said. “He died doing what he believed in. But the progress we’ve made is a testament to the hard work and sacrifices of all who served, and that cannot be taken for granted.”
Benjamin said his brother would be pleased at the country’s improvement if he were alive to see it.
“He would be proud, and maybe even smug,” he said. “He would probably joke and say something like, ‘Its safe around here because of me, … because of what I did.’"
Benjamin said he and James always believed in serving their country, and following James’ death, Benjamin joined the Navy as a corpsman.
“In high school, my brother and I agreed that while everyone can’t serve, everyone should want to serve to help repay for the many opportunities we are granted just by living in America,” Benjamin said. “I understood that all Marines are brothers, and seeing how my brother was a Marine, that made the Marines my brothers, too. So I figured as a Navy corpsman, I'd get the opportunity to serve with some of my brothers.”
McCormack said that while there can never be closure for him because it is far too difficult getting over someone’s death, he is thankful for the opportunity to share the day with Benjamin.
“Benjamin was very grateful for the opportunity to see the actual area his brother was killed and the rooftop of the building where the pictures were taken,” McCormack said. “It was just as beneficial for me to be on that rooftop with him. I don’t want to say it brought closure, because the pain of losing a Marine never goes away, and the loss of a brother will certainly never go away for Ben. I lost a Marine, but he lost a brother.”
(Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Casey Jones serves with Regimental Combat Team 1.)