While in college, I passed under Soldiers Arch nearly every day. It almost seems out of place between the brick chemistry lab and a dorm, rising plainly with a smooth surface of pale gray granite.
On the facade of the arch toward Thayer St. to the east are engraved two quotations. I haven't seen the arch in years, but the words are on my tongue in a moment.
One side of the arch reads " 'Tis man's perdition to be safe when for the truth he ought to die". The line is from Emerson. On the other side is "They gave their merry youth away, for country and for God. That is from a poem by Winifred Letts, about the students from Oxford who left school to fight in the war.
The arch is a memorial to the students and faculty from Brown who died in the World Wars. The location has been the site of ceremonies to remember alumni who died in Korea and Vietnam.
As I passed the arch, I would never fail to appreciate that I led the carefree life of a college student in a country free for men and women because of many brave citizens who had sacrificed to make it that way. Later as a senior in 1990, I took my oath of office in the USAF and the words on that arch were in my mind.
Next time I visit Soldiers Arch , I will think of Dimitrios Gavriel. Dimitrios was a Brown student from New Hampshire. He graduated in 1997 with a business degree and worked on Wall Street. When the World Trade Center towers fell, he was a block away, and lost two close friends in the attack. Shortly after he tried to enlist in the Marines, but was denied because of his age and old wrestling injuries. He trained, lost 40 pounds, and after an impassioned letter to a recruiter was accepted for training.
In Iraq, Lance Corporal Dimitirios Gavriel tood part in the Siege of Fallujah. On 11 NOV 2004, he was injured in a firefight, but still managed to carry another troop to safety. He was treated and insisted on returning to the fight. On 19 NOV 2004, back in the battle of Fallujah, he was killed in an explosion.
In a letter I found at this tribute,
Lance Corporal Gavriel expressed his reasons for serving in his own words:
(begin quote from the hive)
As a first generation American, he wanted to give back to our country for the blessings he and his family received. In his own words in a letter to GOYA friends at a Michigan State Church, who received it after his death, he wrote
"..... I moved to a small apartment next to Central Park in New York City and began the long hours of the "grind" of Wall Street. I remember those years as some of the best of my life, surrounded by close friends and good times. So how, after all this, did a guy like me end up in Iraq? The answer is pretty simple when I look to the young Marines at my right and left. I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to do something, no give something, to deserve all the good things we, as Americans, enjoy and sometimes take for granted as we move through the years of the good lives we lead under the safety and freedom of our flag. Everyone lost something on that terrible day of 9/11. I lost my close friends, brothers you might say. Guys I grew up with, team mates, pals, mentors , and confidants. I watched the towers fall, helpless, from a block away in the streets of New York and made a promise before God that I would do all I could to keep something like this from happening again. I left a job I loved, said goodbye to a circle of close friends and joined the Marines, the perfect place for a guy who wants a front row seat to the sweeping changes the world is currently experiencing. No man can know just exactly how much his effort has changed the world out here, but together we have chased much evil away from power and have shown those who, for reason or another, hate our way of life, that we are a nation of people who refuse to live under the threat of terror. We are out here for the things we miss most, green grass, football games, flowers, and the fresh cool breeze of home. Most importantly, we are out here for you, the people who make our land so special. Semper Fidelis, Dimitri Gavriel 11/2/04"
Dimitrios kept journals and wrote poetry while in Iraq. One poem is shared on the Arlington Cemetary website
And then there are the dreamers
Who see beyond the shroud
Distinct are they among us
They shuffle through the crowd
Hope lives among so few
Yet strong it is I know
For I am still a dreamer
Along the track I go
I am proud to be a Brown Alumnus, because that confederation is populated by heroes like Lance Corporal Gavriel.
(Pictures from Brown University, My Greek Oddyssey blog, and Arlington Cemetary websites)