The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation. –George Washington
April 14th 2011 was a difficult day for me because it was the day my fellow warriors Lance Corporal Dean D. Opicka and Corporal Richard Nelson from 2nd battalion 24th Marines Fox Company were killed in action in Iraq 2008. I spent many times with them standing in the smoke pit, a designated smoking area, every morning during our work up for a second tour of duty. I did not smoke, but in the smoke pit is where all the best stories were told about Military, family life, politics, religion, camaraderie, Esprit de corps, and the list is endless.
I always met Corporal Nelson in the smoke pit, he was a very vibrant soul and it was here I started documenting his sense of humor, his love for his Country, his home state of Wisconsin, and his family, for a mini series entitled “In 400 Days” – a diary of a Marine rifleman. I wanted to immortalized each man’s face that I have had the opportunity to served beside. I know that life is delicate and that we all understood what we were putting on the line for our Country. This was the second tour for Corporal Nelson and me.
I remember the first tour when our then battalion commander, Lt.Col Mark A. Smith, took his entire 2/24 battalion on a hill-top in Camp Horno, California. He told us to look right and left at the faces of our brothers in arms. Some of the faces we are looking at, may not come back home because we are going to war, and as Marines we have always fought our nation’s battles with pride and honor. No matter how difficult the fight, mission accomplishment comes first.
Corporal Nelson was in Iraq in 2004 for the first national democratic election in Iraq in the most troubled and dangerous region known as the forbidden Triangle of Death, which was documented in the GI film festival’s founder choice award-winning Documentary film The Triangle of Death in 2009. Triangle of Death was directed by Folleh Shar Francis Tamba and produced by Thomas Hartman and Juan Montelongo. It also aired on the Discovery Military Channel on veteran’s day weekend in 2010.
Corporal Nelson was especially proud that he was married, and after the war he was going to take the life of a family man. Unfortunately, Corporal Nelson never came home to realize his dream. Semper fidelis to these two gentleman Lance Corporal Dean Opicka, Corporal Richard Nelson and to all the other service members who have given it their all– rest in peace. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Even as I speak of these two gentlemen’s memories at the Indiespirit film festival in Colorado Springs, I realized that there are many stories like this about service and sacrifice of each serviceman and women who have served our beloved nation AMERICA. Every service member has a story. The producer of The Triangle of Death and The Line of Departure, Juan Montelongo has always wished he could produce all of these stories of service and sacrifice like he produced the film “The Line of Departure ” which will screen at the GI Film Festival May 2011 in Washington DC. Juan wanted to put faces on the men and women who are heroes of our time and generation to come. Luckily, he can start with just one film.