I hope that the entire University of South Carolina Gamecock family will take a moment today to reflect on the sacrifices of all veterans - men and women, past and present, living and dead - who left their families, friends and homes and took up arms in the defense of our nation. Whether from South Carolina, or from our sister states and territories, we owe them all a solemn obligation of gratitude and respect.
Our debt to those who died while on active service in the military is even greater - it is no less than an obligation to remember and cherish their lives; it is no more than a solemn duty to honor them for having accepted an allegiance to an even higher form of duty - of a service that put them in harm's way, and which resulted in the sacrifice of their lives - all so that this great nation might remain free and independent, and be a beacon of light in a world that all too often is plunged into deep shadow and outright darkness.
This debt of memory and honor is the very essence of why we observe Memorial Day. It is a debt that eschews partisan rancor or political debate. It is a debt that crosses communities and color-lines. It unites the old and the young; the Southerner and the Northerner; the Easterner and the Westerner; and the civilian world with the military. Most profoundly, it levies a charge upon those of us who live to do right by those who laid down their lives - by enshrining for them a place on our hearts and minds, whether we knew them by name or not.
In keeping with this obligation, today GABA honors 1st Lieutenant Jason D. Mann, U.S.M.C., 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, II Marine Expeditionary Force, who died on active duty in Afghanistan's Helmand Province at the age of 29, on July 17, 2008, when a roof collapsed on him in a forward operating area.
Originally from Woodlynne, New Jersey, Lt. Mann enlisted with the Marine Corps in 1997 right after graduating from Collingswood High School in Collingswood, New Jersey. He was an Arabic linguist and reconnaissance professional, who reached the rank of Staff Sergeant before matriculating at the University of South Carolina as a finance and economics major.
While at Carolina, he met and fell in love with his future wife, Shannon - who also joined the Marines. Jason graduated from USC in 2005 with a B.S. degree in Business Administration, and reported to the USMC's Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia - where he was the honor graduate of his training class and also the recipient of the physical fitness award. Jason was commissioned a second lieutenant on May 6, 2005. After attending The Basic School, Infantry Officer's Course and the Ground Intelligence Officer Course, Mann reported to 1st Battalion, 6th Marines for duty as the battalion's assistant intelligence officer and later, the battalion's scout sniper platoon commander.
Jason and Shannon celebrated the birth of their first child, a daughter - Isabella - in 2006. There is a photo of him with Isabella here - which I warn you will pull very hard at your emotions.
Lt. Mann served a tour in Iraq (2006-2007) and took a deployment to Afghanistan in March, 2008. In June - just several weeks before his death - he rushed to a crashed helicopter and helped pull the pilot to safety despite fuel having spilled everywhere. On the date he lost his life, he was in his quarters at a forward operating area - in a building that British engineers were working to stabilize at the time of the roof collapse.
He last spoke to Shannon on July 6, 2008 when he called her on her cell phone while she and Isabella were visiting his brother's family.
He was supposed to have come home that October.
Lt. Mann was laid to rest at the Quantico National Military Cemetery. A memorial service was also held in his honor at Veterans Island, in Camden County, New Jersey.
I never knew him. But I will do my best to remember him. And to thank him - and his family - for what he did for me and mine.