I've written about SGT Joshua Brennan on several occasions on my old blog. Here is one story. I've mentioned what a wonderful father, Mike, his step mom and sisters in Wisconsin are. I've never met his mother, Janice, or his step father and siblings in Oregon but Josh's dad, Mike, speaks of them often and fondly. Mike Brennan is an amazing man. I am fortunate to call him my friend.
Over the past three years I have gotten to know Mike and his extended family well. We all traveled to Italy in September 2008 not long after the 173rd returned from their 15 month deployment to Afghanistan in OEF VIII. It was during that deployment that Josh was mortally wounded by the Taliban in an ambush on 25 October 2007 and succumbed to his wounds hours later on 26 October 2007. We all had many reasons for traveling to Italy. One of Mike's reasons was to be able to meet many of Josh's battle buddies who were with him that fateful day and to find out "first hand" what happened. He just wanted and needed to know everything possible. I am so grateful to Josh's battle buddies and friends for all they have shared with Mike and his family and for becoming such an integral part of their lives.
Mike and I talk often. His is always open, honest and candid. The sorrow never goes away. Mike inspires me by the way he (and the whole family) choose to honor Josh's life and memory. Mike never talks about the day Josh was wounded without reminding anyone that SPC Hugo "Doc" Mendoza also gave his life in service to our nation during that ambush during Operation Rock Avalanche.
One fact goes without question - Josh's family and friends are grateful to all the men of Josh's platoon for what they did that day to save Josh from the enemy and to keep each other safe. There are many stories of Valor. The most poignant story of that day is that of SSG Sal Giunta who ran through enemy fire thinking he was going forward to assist SGT Brennan only to find out that Josh had been shot multiple times and was being dragged away by the enemy. Among many acts of Valor SSG Giunta killed one of the enemy while the other ran away. SSG Giunta then pulled Josh to the safety of other men of the Platoon. If not for the actions of SSG Giunta that day one can only speculate whether Josh's family would have ever had him home so they could say good bye.
I've heard SSG Giunta say he doesn't think he's a hero - that if he's a hero then every man with him that day was, too. I respect that. I've heard some specifics of what happened that day from Mike Brennan, parents of another Soldier, SGT Frank Eckrode, Jr. who was there, was shot twice and is deployed to Afghanistan again. We've also heard stories from that day recounted by other members of Battle Co, 2-503. As a civilian I don't feel heroic is close enough to what those men did that day. I am grateful for each of them and for Congress making the right decision in awarding the Medal of Honor to SSG Giunta.
The following article was published today. Take a few minutes to read it. I think you will be touched by the positive spirit in Mike Brennan. A spirit Josh's whole family seems to embrace even when they miss him so much.
From JSOnline - Milwaukee
Dead soldier's family ready to honor rescuer who did his best
Medal of Honor recipient saved soldier from enemy, but soldier died later
By Meg Jones of the Journal Sentinel
Sept. 30, 2010
He wears the St. Christopher medal he gave his son to keep him safe in battle. He sometimes wears his son's T-shirts. Every morning he shaves with his son's shaving gear. On his wrist he wears a bracelet inscribed with his son's name.
It's not exactly a conscious effort to keep his son Josh close, it's just something Mike Brennan does.
And, of course, he thinks about his oldest child every day.
Sgt. Josh Brennan, 22, was mortally wounded in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley three years ago in a firefight so fierce some of his fellow paratroopers in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team would earn Silver Stars and one would eventually earn the military's highest honor - the Medal of Honor.
When Josh Brennan's family heard Army Staff Sgt. Salvatore Giunta, 24, of Iowa was named the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War, they felt honored and proud. Giunta tried to save Josh Brennan's life, and in fact, rescued him from Taliban fighters who were trying to drag Brennan away.
Under heavy fire, Giunta emptied his M-4 rifle at the enemy and managed to pull Josh Brennan to safety. But Josh had been severely wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire, and though he was stabilized and medevaced out of the Korengal Valley, he died several hours later. Also killed in the battle - which happened on the last day of what was called Operation Rock Avalanche - was the unit's medic, Spc. Hugo Mendoza.
"I was thrilled to hear he got it," said Mike Brennan, 47, a Madison police officer who lives in McFarland. "It's not just about him running up there to save Josh. But it's such an honor for all of the people who fought with him."
Giunta is stationed in the unit's home base in Vicenza, Italy, while the unit is deployed in Afghanistan until later this fall. Though no date has been set for Giunta to receive the Medal of Honor at the White House, Mike Brennan and his family hope to be there to congratulate Giunta when the ribbon bearing the Medal of Honor is placed around his neck by the president.
Mike Brennan learned of his son's death in a phone call from Josh's mother in Oregon after the military knocked on her door. The next day, soldiers knocked on his.
"I said 'It's all right. I already know.' He said 'no sir, I have to read this.' The guy was just sobbing. I was comforting him," recalled Mike Brennan, who served in an Army military police unit that guarded Iraqi prisoners during the first Gulf War.
Though Josh Brennan grew up in Oregon with his mother, he spent summers with his father in Wisconsin and attended school in McFarland between the ages of 8 and 10. He ran track and played football at Ontario High School in Oregon and enjoyed water skiing, tubing and wake-boarding on Lake Monona. He was seldom without an iPod filled with rock and country music. In his free time he watched DVDs on his laptop. Before he left to join the 82nd Airborne Division, (Blogger's note: SGT Brennan never served in the 82nd. He joined the 173rd) he and his dad watched the "Band of Brothers" series about World War II paratroopers.
Josh was five months into his second tour of Afghanistan when he was killed. He earned three Bronze Stars, including one for valor, and two Purple Hearts.
When Josh's possessions were returned to his family after his death in September 2007, they were surprised to see he had kept a journal. Among the words Josh scribbled in the small notebook were these: "I don't think I will be on this earth very long."
"I was shocked to see that and to see that it was something he thought about," said his father. "Things like that, he never really discussed with me."
Members of Josh Brennan's family traveled to Italy in 2008 to visit soldiers in his unit. The Brennans and family members of other soldiers raised money to throw a big party for the unit and even flew some of the unit's injured members undergoing treatment in the United States to Italy for the gathering. When Mike Brennan met his son's comrades, he said, some were initially wary and worried Josh's family might be angry.
"To their surprise, we really accepted Josh's loss. In the biblical sense there's a day to be born and a day to die, and that was Josh's day. It was his destiny," said Mike Brennan.
Also traveling to Italy in 2008 was Mike Brennan's older brother, Terry, and Terry's son Joseph. In a strange twist, Joseph Brennan joined the Army after his cousin's death and was assigned to Josh's unit. Not just the regiment or battalion but the same platoon and squad. He's in Afghanistan now.
Three days before Josh died, a Marine recruiter was in Joseph Brennan's living room in Mequon. Even though he signed up for the Marines, the 2008 Homestead High School graduate changed his mind and joined the Army.
"We didn't want him to do it because we didn't want to go through all of this again in case something happened to him," said his mother, Laurie Brennan. "But eventually he said it was in God's hands."
It wasn't out of a sense of revenge or vengeance, Terry Brennan said of his son's decision. Joseph Brennan joined the military because he was proud of Josh's service and sacrifice. Joseph Brennan, now 19 and recently engaged, flew out of Mitchell International Airport to head to war exactly two years after Josh died. Everyone serving in the company knew he was Josh Brennan's cousin.
Last Christmas in a phone call from Afghanistan, Joseph Brennan mentioned something that shocked his father.
"Joe said 'Tell Uncle Mike, we got the guy.' I said 'What are you talking about?' " said Terry Brennan.
Though official military sources will not confirm it, Terry Brennan said his son told him the unit had captured a high-value target believed to be the planner of the ambush that killed Josh Brennan and Mendoza.
"If it's true, it's almost full circle for Josh's cousin to get the guy who planned the ambush," Terry Brennan said.
Blog Owner's note: You can read more about SSG Giunta here at Blackfive, here in Stars and Stripes and here
Take a few minutes, about 30, to watch this video of SSG Giunta and his wife Jenny. Two incredibly humble Americans. I can't get the video to embed so click on this link to watch.