On October 23, 1983, suicide bombers drove trucks into the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Three hundred five American and French service personnel died. That Christmas, while home from Annapolis, Maryland, I learned Lance Cpl. Warner Gibbs, Jr., USMC — a high-school classmate — had died in Beirut. Warner was athletic and gregarious with a dazzling smile. During senior year, my English teacher Biff Andrews had cautioned us that within five years, one of us would probably die. He was right.
I met Lt. Richard McBride in Anti-Submarine Warfare School during the summer of 1986. Although he was a pilot, and I was a “shoe,” we became friends after learning we were both Christians. Rich and his wife, Laura, invited me over for dinner; he and I often teamed up for class exercises and to study. Fast-forward to 1997. I had written an episode of the television series JAG and sent postcards to inform friends and family when it would air. I called the Naval Academy Alumni Association to find Rich’s address. There was a pause… “I regret to inform you Lt. McBride passed away in an aviation mishap.”
September 11, 2001. Everyone alive then can tell you where they were when the attacks occurred. Within a week, I learned Cmdr. Patrick Dunn, a classmate, died at the Pentagon. Pat and I bonded during remedial Calculus II sophomore summer. Barrel chested with bright red hair, Pat was a raconteur par excellence. He left behind a pregnant wife who bore the daughter he would never meet.
I think about these friends every Memorial Day.
Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than he who lay down his life for a friend.” Take a moment to remember men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure the freedom we enjoy.
Dr. Thomas Parham (pictured at right) is professor of communication and media studies. After he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, he spent seven years on active duty, qualifying as a Surface Warfare Officer.
Photo 1: Lance Cpl. Warner Gibbs, Jr. was killed by suicide bombers who drove trucks into the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983.
Photo 2: Parham met and befriended Lt. Richard McBride in Anti-Submarine Warfare School. Years later, McBride died in an aviation accident.
Photo 3: Cmdr. Patrick Dunn, a classmate of Parham’s, died at the Pentagon in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
Photo 4: Capt. Bill Center, Commanding Officer of USS Reeves (CG 24), presents Lt. j.g. Thomas Parham with his Surface Warfare Officer pin in October 1988 while on deployment to the Persian Gulf.