A lot of people are reeling from the loss of Rory, and here at CIT-NJ Center of Excellence we are no different. It is very evident now just how long his reach was. In the wake of his suicide, we felt it was important to share a quick story about him. First, we need to be clear; this is not a case of postmortem idol-worship. We tend to immortalize the dead, and this is especially true in the military. The ones who don’t make it slowly grow to be bigger than giants when we retell their stories, their character flaws get tossed aside, and their heroic deeds become their only legacy. Overall this is a good thing, however deep down, we all know that sometimes the deceased wasn’t “a Marine’s Marine” or the “epitome of a good soldier.” Sometimes people just die. Heroes and otherwise. Rory really did talk the talk and walk the walk.
Rory and I certainly didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. And we weren’t close friends. We did serve together in the same squad and we stayed in touch via social media. No deep conversations, just maintained a line of communication. But for all the people who know him from his social media presence and his post-military work in mental health, I want to tell you about the day he was injured, because it highlights who Rory was, even at his most vulnerable.
In the winter of 2011, we found ourselves in Trek Nawa, Afghanistan. We had been in our area of operations for less than two weeks, and Rory was one of 3 experienced Team Leaders in an otherwise inexperienced Marine Rifle Squad. As we were on patrol the morning of February 13, we received some info that an IED had been emplaced in a nearby compound. Without getting into too many details or writing about what should or shouldn’t have happened, Rory ultimately took a minesweeper from a junior Marine and began to clear the compound. He stepped on a low metallic pressure plate and detonated ten pounds of HME. The blast severed his right leg at the thigh, and left his remaining leg and ass riddled with shrapnel and deep lacerations. The explosion sounded relatively muffled because the ground was wet mud, but it was strong enough that his foot traveled over the compound walls and landed in an adjacent field.
Memories are strange and unreliable, but I know that in the next moments, in some order, Marines applied tourniquets and dressings to his wounds, cleared the compound, made a landing zone, and called a MEDEVAC. The critical part of this story is how Rory conducted himself in the few minutes he waited to be evacuated. To those injured and those rendering aid, the moments spent waiting for a MEDEVAC to arrive feel closer to eternity.
Once the Corpsman stabilized Rory, and that eternity began, Rory calmly asked for a cigarette. He lit the cigarette and joked with the Marines and Sailor huddled around him. Fully aware that one leg was gone, the other was severely damaged, and his life was in the balance. I don’t know of any circumstances when losing one’s composure would have been more acceptable. However, Rory maintained a calm demeanor and continued to lead by example. He kept absolute control over his emotions in front of his Marines, less than two weeks into their first combat deployment- a time when stoicism is crucial.
In 2011 there was a viral video going around with some Australian guy with a big mustache telling people they needed to “harden the fuck up!” Rory fittingly had a patch of this Aussie’s face on his flak. When one of his younger Marine’s seemed upset by the gravity of the situation we were in, Rory smiled, removed the patch, and slapped it into the palm of the young Marine.
Soon after, Rory was evacuated, flatlining several times on his way to the field hospital. He made it to Germany, then to Walter Reed, and eventually made a full physical recovery. Rory was there to greet every subsequent Marine from our Battalion who lost limbs and began the long road at Walter Reed. Not yet able to walk, Rory even made it to our Battalion’s homecoming in North Carolina.
Rory went on to test new technology in prosthetics and become a mental health advocate using his massive social media presence. Tragically, Rory lost his battle with depression and took his own life with on April 30, 2020. Rory left behind children, siblings, friends, and comrades. He also leaves behind a legacy of kindness and perseverance. He dedicated the last decade of his life to helping others and became a pathfinder for those struggling with mental illness.
I wish I had something profound to say or knew how to ensure his death was not in vain. All I can say is we need to check up on one another. Don’t leave any text or call from a friend, no matter how small or meaningless, go unanswered. In addition to helping each other, we need to help ourselves. If you are struggling, remind yourself of the rougher places you’ve been and the difficult tasks you have accomplished. Be proactive and seek help. And like Rory said- HARDEN THE FUCK UP.