This Memorial Day I honor John Maloney and Pat Rapicault, two of the best Marine leaders of my generation and my friends.
We once raged in Las Vegas. John was the best in a class of decorated combat leaders. We hit the town hard for hours. It was March 2004 and we would soon serve in Iraq; John and Pat with the 5th Marines in Ramadi, and me bound for Fallujah. Pat couldn’t wait to deploy. He once picked me up at the airport in Naples, Italy and drove like a local, a terrifying experience. We ran the Marine Corps Marathon together without training. Born in the Caribbean, he spent his formative years in the deep south. When he spoke we barely understood him. When “Frenchy” once introduced General Anthony Zinni no one understood him, least of all the general. Pat called me from Ramadi the week before he was killed, sharing his experience. Pat thrived on challenges, always volunteering for the toughest jobs. When called he was ready. Pat’s Marines dominated the battlespace in Ramadi, the hottest spot in Al Anbar Province. On November 15, 2004 I was informed that Pat was killed by a suicide vehicle bomber in Ramadi. The ceremony at Section 60 Arlington National Ceremony was heartbreaking and personal.
On a beautiful November day John Maloney delivered a sweet, brilliant eulogy for his friend Frenchy, voicing the admiration we all felt. Marines shed uncontrollable tears, duty bound to serve in Iraq and resolved to stay tight and honor this sacrifice. My unit prepared for Iraq and an instructor noted one unit that performed better than mine. It was John’s.
I left for Fallujah in February 2005, ninety days after Pat’s death, and John Maloney left for Ramadi the same month. We were less than 30 miles apart and John was now serving exactly where Pat had.
In 2005 connectivity was letters, MotoMail and a perhaps a weekly call. Oppressively hot, June was the midpoint of our seven-month deployment. I called home around that time and my wife told me that John Maloney had been killed in Ramadi.
Now I can read from the journal I kept how I felt: “He gave the eulogy at Pat’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery last November. That was an appropriate, beautiful effort to honor our great friend and hero. The sad irony that they both died in the same manner, in the same town in Iraq, 30 miles west of where I now sit. It’s really hard to believe. It’s such a bitter irony.”
They died within 30 weeks of one another.
“I mourn for his wife and children that are without him now. God, bless them and please let them know how I admired John Maloney and feel privileged for having know him and counted him as a friend. Life is on a thin string here.”
In October 2005 I got off the bus and met my six-day old son. It was exhilarating to finish that deployment and come back to my family. Soon we learned that our unit, 1st Battalion, 6thMarines “One-Six”, would return to Iraq in under a year. This time we were going to Ramadi. We all knew that name, Marines and wives alike. Telling my wife that we were headed for Ramadi, she could only look at me in disbelief.
We were resolved to serve well in Ramadi and secure the city. Our battalion deployed to Ramadi in September 2006, as an intelligence report leaked that Al Anbar was potentially unwinnable. In spring 2007, nine months after 1/6 arrived, I walked through the central streets and markets of Ramadi with fellow Marines and Iraqi policemen intent on restoring their city to security and prosperity. We exchanged waves and smiles with vendors. Many lives had been sacrificed, American and Iraqi, including my friends, but at that time the city was secure. It was an honor to take part in finishing what they had started. Bringing security to Ramadi with our partners is one of the most satisfying professional achievements I experienced. Our Marine battalion, fellow Army and Navy warriors, and our local Iraqi friends achieved a successful conclusion to a chapter of service in Ramadi and honored our sacrifice. Pat Rapicault and John Maloney were legendary Marines and my friends. Pat received the Silver Star posthumously. John would become the first and only posthumous Leftwich Trophy recipient, recognizing him as the finest combat arms captain in the Marine Corps. Duty bound, they loved their families and their Marines and gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Join me celebrating them this Memorial Day.
Dan Zappa is a retired Marine lieutenant colonel. A former infantry officer he deployed eight times over a 23 year career including four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives in Virginia with his family.