Just one week after the killing of our most sought after enemy by our country’s premiere assaultmen the headlines have turned predictably back to what (sadly) matters most to far too many Americans…back to National Football League infighting, and reality television, and 5 dollar gas and Lindsay Lohan, and on and on and on.

Just one week after history has altered course into an irreconcilable unknown with our most lethal enemy since World War II – the Islamist – more attention is spent in the collective daily consciousness on meaningless self-indulgence than on asking the question our grandparents so circumspectly posed after Hitler fell and Hirohito’s Japan remained: What now?

The times are indeed grim when our violent land wars are fought by less than 1% of a population that cannot even identify where their fellow countrymen are doing the fighting and killing and bleeding and winning on their behalf. This sort of thing makes me sad.

And then I think of Brian Blonder.

On the tenth of this May there was no more magnificent stage in all the world than the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. Though this sacred place holds only nominal natural elevation, it seems high enough, I think, to peer into our national soul. And so when a man goes there, his heart races. And his breath shortens. And his muscles tighten. And his eyes water because this is our American Everest.

It was on this stage – at the foot of our nation’s highest moral terrain – that Brian Blonder received the second highest award given for valor in the face of danger for his actions during an all-day firefight against Taliban insurgents Aug. 8, 2008, during the battle of Shewan, Afghanistan in which he led Marines and Sailors and innovated and persevered and dealt death to more than 50 Taliban fighters and drove the rest from that terrible village in the southern Farah province.

It was aside our American Everest that those attending were reminded, if only for the duration of the ceremony itself, why this nation will endure after all – not because of Yankee versus Red Sox baseball, or free speech, or an independent judiciary (though all of that is quite important, indeed) – but because of the United States Marine Corps, and the weight carried by a few words displayed on a large sign in the foreground of the ceremony concerning the title, Marine…

Earned. Never Given.

The victory in Shewan that day by an out-gunned Marine platoon had everything to do with ‘earning it’ and this incredible defeat of a fierce enemy was not only a function of the tremendous leadership of Captain Byron Owen and Gunnery Sergeant Brian Blonder but also of their men’s unbridled courage and lethality. It was a day that required extraordinary Marines perform extraordinarily. And so they did. And so they won.

Brian Blonder will tell you he just did his job. But that he could have done better here. Here. And here. And he’ll tell you his Marines just did their job as well. Then he’d just assume have a sip of black coffee and a pinch of Copenhagen…and set out on a long run with a heavy ruck into the mountains. Alone.

That sort of quiet-professionalism might just be expected from one of Tennessee’s native sons. Tennessee, a state which produced more soldiers for the Confederate Army than any other state, and more soldiers for the Union Army than any other Southern state, has a reputation for producing hard men built for war…but more than this, Gunny Blonder, who would no doubt rather be training in sweaty utilities than standing at attention in sweaty dress blues, understands that the 10th of May wasn’t about him at all. The 10th of May was about what he represented so well in battle: The United States Marine Corps.

And so these days when the thought of how few Americans have ever heard of Farah Province, Afghanistan or seen Arlington for themselves makes me sad…

I think of Brian Blonder.


For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving as Platoon Sergeant, Force Reconnaissance Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Marine Corps Forces Central Command (Forward) on 8 August 2008 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Gunnery Sergeant Blonder was leading a dismounted patrol through the city of Shewan when his platoon came under intense rocket propelled grenade, mortar and machinegun fire that destroyed a vehicle and trapped several Marines in the kill zone 150 meters away from the enemy. Gunnery Sergeant Blonder exposed himself time and again to heavy fire as he coordinated the suppression of the enemy so that the Marines could be recovered. Later in the battle, Gunnery Sergeant Blonder personally led a flanking attack on the enemy trench system through countless volleys of machinegun and rocket propelled grenade fire. He continued to press the attack as the platoon penetrated further into the trenches in order to defeat the enemy. Gunnery Sergeant Blonder’s tactical ability, superior marksmanship and aggressive fighting spirit inspired the platoon to continually advance on the enemy despite being highly outnumbered. He was a driving force during the eight hour battle and pushed the platoon to gain and maintain the momentum against the enemy until they were destroyed. Gunnery Sergeant Blonder’s valorous actions helped reduce a major enemy stronghold as his platoon killed over fifty enemy fighters, destroying several Taliban cells and opening the highway in Shewan to coalition convoys. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Gunnery Sergeant Blonder reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus presents the Navy Cross to Gunnery Sgt. Brian M. Blonder during a ceremony at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., May 10, 2011.

Posted by Alexander Martin in Marine Corps, Navy

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  • GIMP

    Very impressive. The entire nation should be proud we produce such men.

    The killing of UBL news can’t go away fast enough. The longer it lasts the more information dribbles out. We don’t need to know many of the things we do; and that has been a huge mistake.

    Really “on X day at X hour, American forces killed UBL at his compound in Pakistan” should have been the beginning and end of it. No identification of the specific team involved, methods, etc. Giving additional information can only hurt, never help.

  • Justin G.

    God bless the Corp and Gunnery Sgt. Blonder for his heroism and dedication to preserving the freedoms of this country. Though I have never served in the USMC, I have worked with many of them and have the utmost respect for the courage and skills, especially in combat. May God continue to bless the USMC with such fine warriors and may the enemy always know that where they hide, the USMC and other special operation teams will find them. Semper Fi!

  • Total

    “The times are indeed grim when our violent land wars are fought by less than 1% of a population that cannot even identify where their fellow countrymen are doing the fighting and killing and bleeding and winning on their behalf.”

    This has largely been true throughout American history.

  • Two different themes in here, Alex – one that America isn’t paying attention to Afghanistan – which begs the question whether the government is paying attention, which begs us to question whether what Brian Blonder and so many others are doing there is important to America, and worth their sacrifice. Not whether what they are doing is good, but whether they might be doing more good somewhere else. I don’t know the answer to that.
    The other theme is what makes a hero, and what inspires an act of heroism. Your references to the soldierly tradition of Tennessee is appropriate – think Sgt Alvin York – I suspect Sgt Blonder has seen the 1941 movie starring Gary Cooper as Sgt York growing up shooting squirrels in Tennessee more than once. But ‘just doing my job’ is different things to different people – and this young man saw his own sense of obligation to ‘his job’ as higher than most. Most heroes like Brian Blonder don’t recall making any deliberate decisions they made under fire – a lifetime – or generations – had prepared him and he just reacted. Which is part of why the rest of us are so in awe and so respectful. Thank you for writing this. Bob

  • Don Taylor

    Outstanding Gunny, Out”Bleepin”Standing. Fmr.1st Recon

  • Christopher Jones

    This story brings the same question to mind that has repeatly come up since 9/11/01 and our war against extremist. Where do we get such fine men from? Where have we as a nation always gotten such fine men from? I stand in awe once again. Thank you Gunnery Sgt. Blonder and the many others of all our service branches that you represent.

  • Melissa

    I have the privilege to know Brian on a personal level. My husband and Brian have been friends since childhood and remain close to this day. I cannot tell you how proud my husband was to be in attendance at the ceremony and to watch his best friend get such an award. It makes me appreciate what our military does for our country every day.