Eulogy given by Mark Wallinger for his best friend, Capt. Robert E. Dolan, who died in the Pentagon crash. Capt. Dolanís funeral was held on October 13, 2001, at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
I canít help looking over this sea of sad faces and thinking Bob is looking down and saying:
ďOh sure Ö have a get together on the one day you know I canít be there!Ē
On behalf of the Dolan family and loved ones, I wanted to thank the Navy for every courtesy extended to Captain Dolanís loved ones during this time.
We are really joined here today as two parts of Bobís family: his military family and his loved ones.
Since we will never Ė all of us Ė be together like this again, Iíd like to share some of Bobís letters.
A few years ago, I got a note from Bob, who was in Newport, RI studying at Destroyer School to take over the USS John Hancock. He was up there solo and wanted some company. Bob didnít ask easily, so when he asked, you went.
We were in downtown Newport when we walked past the building that served as the Naval Academy during the Civil War. Bob and I talked about Joshua Chamberlain, who commanded the 20th Maine at Little Round Top at Gettysburg. For those who donít know Ö Joshua Chamberlain knew if his line crumbled, the battle would be lost Öand possibly the Union as well. Out of ammunition, his troops exhausted and outnumbered, he had them fix bayonets. They did.
And on his order he had them charge down the hill, yelling at the top of their lungs. They did. It worked and the Southern troops scattered and the 20th Maine held the line and the North won at Gettysburg, in part, because of those orders.
I asked Bob: How do you get smart people to follow impossible orders like that? Charge down a hill without ammunition into an oncoming and armed enemy that outnumbers you?
Bob said: When you are in those situations, you donít do it for God, or country, or a cause. You do it for the person next to you.
I tell this story in this most sacred of military places, because I know that you in the military understand. But for those of us who were his loved ones, please understand that Bob was the guy next to us Ö for our whole lives.
I want you to know that the Captain Dolan you served with was a better friend than he was a Captain. And a better brother to Dan and Chris Dolan than he was a friend. And a better son to Mr. and Mrs. Dolan than he was a brother.
Thatís how Iíll remember Bob Dolan. And Iíll know that his spirit Ė the spirit of a warrior, poet, hero, friend Ė makes me better for the experience, no matter how much I grieve the loss. I knew him for 35 years. It is one of the greatest gifts God has given me. Honored to know him doesnít begin to describe it.
I say warrior, poet, hero, friend, because he was all that. He could quote Shakespeare and Steinbeck and Springsteen in the same breath; was the best-read man I knew; had the soul of a farmer; enough heart for two men; and enough common sense for all of us. I never saw him mad, never heard him be petty, or unkind. He had a sense of fairness that could only be described as totally All-American.
I met Bob in first grade at Holy Family in Florham Park New Jersey. People tell me its unusual to know friends from grade school, but there are no fewer than seven of us in the chapel today who were there that day in September 1965. Thatís what kind of friends Bob had. Because thatís what kind of friend he was.
When my father died, and we were not as close as we would have liked, I thought of him every day for at least a year. When my mother died after a long illness, I thought of her more than that. Since September 11, I have been unable to get Bob out of my thoughts, which I know from my experiences is natural. He is there on my shoulder, as I go through my day. I feel his presence here today. I know some of you do, too.
To his daughter, Rebecca, and his son, BeauÖ know that he can see you. Heíll watch you grow and make friends and fall in love and live your lives. Embrace his angel on your shoulder, because life can be lonely, the world sometimes cruel and unfair. But heís there going through it with you, still connected. Heíll see you make mistakes, too, but that is part of life. Donít sweat it, he would say. He once wrote me and said:
"Success is a dynamic concept, not a static one. Donít get caught up trying to pin it down to a moment."
Rebecca, I am the father of 3 girls, but I never knew a father who talked more about his daughter. 3 September 1988 he wrote:
"I miss my family terribly. I wonít even begin to describe the joys of a daughter, because of my poor ability with words could never do it justice. I miss her, so."
From another deployment Ö
"As Iím sure youíve noticed, Iím kind of partial to Rebecca. She puts a whole new twist on the deployment thing. When I left Lisa, I knew I was coming home to same person I left. When I leave Becca, even for a couple of weeks, itís like coming home to a whole new person. Itís tough."
Rebecca, you are confident and smart and beautiful, much like your father was at 15. When the world treats you a little less kind than youíd like, remember it treated him that way at times, too. But he never let it turn his heart cold, or bitter. He rarely complained, and always said that lifeís difficult lessons were just that Ö lessons.
Beau, you were on his mind as well.
From a letter dated 1993 Ö
"Your children are truly the only things on earth that accept you for what you are. Their daddy."
He ended that letter with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt, which he said called "my favorite quote of all time and one I try to live by:"
"Far better it is to dare mightily things to win glorious triumphs,
Even though checked by failure,
Than to take rank with the poor spirits who
Neither enjoys muchÖ nor suffers much
Because they live in that gray twilight that knows no victory, or defeat"
Beau, these are your fatherís guidelines for manhood. They are a gift to you. I know. I understood him. I grew up with him. We were altar boys together when we were your age. Played ball and rode bikes forever. And in all his travels and all his experiences, these are the words he tried to live by. Learn them. Embrace them. Weíll help you as you go. For you are the son of a hero Ö and you will find that you have many friends you never knew. I know youíll be a good friend in return, because you are your fatherís son.
Lisa, you were the love of his life. Above all of us, you knew the man he was. He didnít get to say goodbye, I know, but if he could have it would have been poetic. I can only think of a famous letter written by Sullivan Ballou, a major in the 2nd Rhode Island volunteers, from his letter from July 14, 1861 to his wife Sarah Ö
Ö lest I should not be able to write you again I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I am no more.
I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing -- perfectly willing -- to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this government, and to pay that debt.
Sarah, my love for you is deathless; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly with all those chains to the battlefield. The memory of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me, and I feel most deeply grateful to God and you, that I have enjoyed them for so long.
If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you, nor that when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name ...
But, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you, in the brightest day and in the darkest night... always, always. And when the soft breeze fans your cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.
Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again..."
Sullivan Ballou died two weeks later at the Battle of Bull Run, but those words still ring true today.
Finally, I asked in the beginning that those in Bobís military family understand that he was the guy next to us in our lives. I ask now that his loved ones understand the sacrifices that those in the military make on a daily basis.
From a letter dated 5 September 1993
"Itís quite a struggle I find myself in. Duty to country. Duty to family. Duty to myself. I donít know why but I feel like Iím doing something for all three out here. I feel like Iím not just doing for myself, but doing for other people. I donít think I would feel the same if I were designing oil platforms, or sea walls, which is what my degree is in. Yet, somehow I feel disloyal to Lisa and Becca and Beau. I know Lisa understands, and that Becca and Beau will when they are old enough. But Iím torn. Should I know better? Should I be with them because thatís what a father and husband does? There are just no easy answers."
After events from September 11, there seems to be even fewer easy answers for those of us left behind. The family of a hero sometimes must share the burdens and struggle after the hero is gone, as the Dolan family now must. Lisa, Rebecca and Beau, know that there is a sea of people out here willing to help. Rely on us as we did on your father. For he was the guy next to us Ö in our work, and in our lives. And though we mourn his death today, we will be the people next to you so long as we live.