This post has been updated. See note below.
Right after Yom Kippur, we headed to our country's Naval Academy on a red-eye flight, or, as Virgin America puts it, “a midnight journey.” The stars were bright as we crossed the country.
The next day, on Thursday, we attended the Stockdale lecture, named after Admiral James B. Stockdale and held on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy. Stockdale received the Medal of Honor for his conduct as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
Several hundred midshipmen were in the audience, seated behind us. The speakers were four veterans, all Naval Academy graduates from the Class of 2002, in town for their 10-year reunion.
One of the panelists was a special friend. Lt. Cmdr. Josh Welle, who recently served as special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has a master's degree from the University of Maryland in government and politics, a master's in business administration from the Robert H. Smith School of Business, completed graduate education at St Antony's College, Oxford University and was a military fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Last Wednesday, Welle celebrated his 33rd birthday.
The other panelists included Marine Capt. Rocky Checca, a helicopter pilot; Navy Lt. Meagan Varley Flannigan, one of the last Tomcat pilots, and Marine veteran Seth Lynn, the founder of Veterans Campaign, “a non-partisan, non-ideological organization whose mission is to train veterans to run for public office by holding workshops and lectures, and conducting research on campaigning and related topics.” Lynn has been deployed to Kuwait, Iraq and Japan. He has a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University.
There was a question-and-answer session. The midshipmen focused their questions on preparation for the long wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere: “How do I prepare to be a good leader in wartime?” “Did your experiences in combat affect you?” “What makes a good leader?”
The panel, none older than 33, all with multiple deployments, gave concise and instructive answers.
It was wonderful to be there. The entire visit was wonderful. We stayed with old friends, went to parties and attended the football game. For the first time in my life, I sat at a table in a bookstore and autographed our co-authored, collaborative book, “In the Shadow of Greatness.” All authors' profits go to veterans charities. Every writer should have that experience, at least once in their lifetime.
There was a memorial service for the 11 deceased members of the class. Some people spoke about their faith in God. Our late son's Naval Academy roommate, Daniel “Gunny” Floyd, also spoke. Floyd is in his last year of medical school. He avoided theology and told stories of their adventures. He ended by saying that Andrew, who died in 2004 of cancer at the age of 23, was the best friend a guy could have and that he hoped that he had been as good a friend to Andrew.
The visit was wonderful, it was full of wonder. The Naval Academy is a magical place.
At the Academy bookstore, I signed book after book for the mids and their parents. At the same time, I wondered about Andrew. Why wasn't he with us? He should be here. Why did God allow such a tragedy?
To paraphrase Rabbi Moshe Rothblum, who quoted Elie Wiesel at Adat Ari El's Yom Kippur services, “many theological answers” have been given to me. They include “God is God. He alone knows what he is doing. One has no right to question him or his ways.”
Like Wiesel, “I reject all these answers.” Andrew's death “must and will forever remain a question mark only.”
At the same time, it was a wonderful trip. We loved every minute.
ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.
[FOR THE RECORD: This corrects a previous version that incorrectly identified Seth Lynn as Seth Lyons.]