Marine Sgt. James Brower is back from
Fallujah, having survived blasts from six improvised
"Six IEDs?" people kept saying at his welcome home
The celebration was at Angelina's Ristorante on
Staten Island Sunday evening, and 24-year-old Brower was
laughing and joking as if the world were only wonderful.
Then, somebody asked him to pose with his family for
a picture in front of the big American flag he had
carried into Afghanistan two months after 9/11 and then
to Iraq this year. He stood solemn-faced beside his
beaming mother, father and sister.
"Smile, James!" people called out. "Come on, James,
The corners of his mouth rose slightly, but no smile
came even when his sister turned and kissed him on the
cheek. He appeared a little tired, maybe sad.
He did not seem to be trying to look like a tough
Marine for the camera and his mother was mystified. A
friend suggested that perhaps her son was thinking of
the fellow Marines who had not been so lucky, who would
never stand with their families again.
The moment the photo taking was done, James Brower
was back in motion, laughing and joking once more,
flashing a smile. He had a camera of his own, a small
digital model, and he showed a guest images of Fallujah
and the Euphrates River. One photo was of a large
explosion in the night.
"That's an IED," he said.
Brower has photos of 23-year-old Lance Cpl.
Christopher Cosgrove. But if these were among the
pictures he showed of his platoon, he did not say so.
Cosgrove was killed by a car bomb just as the unit was
packing up to head home. He left behind a fiancée who
had already purchased her wedding gown. The wake was in
the hall where the couple was to have been married.
"That's the one that really bothered him the most,"
Brower's mother, Elaine, said.
James Brower stepped away from the flag that had
flown over his outpost in Fallujah day after deadly day.
The flag now hung with duct tape behind a cake that had
white icing and a much smaller Stars and Stripes and an
"Welcome Home Marine."
Brower stopped beside a guest's grandson, a
bright-eyed toddler who was impossibly cute. Brower
tenderly touched a fingertip to the little boy's cheek.
"Did you really reenlist?" a guest asked.
"Yes," Brower said.
He would still be returning to the NYPD, but he had
indeed signed on for another two years with the Marine
Reserves. He figures that by passing on some of the
hard-earned knowledge he acquired on the dusty streets
of Fallujah, he might help other Marines be so lucky as
to make it home.
"He says he knows too much not to share it," his
Elaine Brower picked up the toddler and held him as
she once held her son. She turned to the fully grown boy
who was now back from his second war.
"Make baby. Get married," she said.
"Who, me?" James said. He was scoffing like a real
jarhead might be expected to scoff, but he still
extended a fingertip once more. He again touched the
toddler with the tenderness that is at the core of the
very best Marines.
"He just needs the right girl," his mother said.
This tender core had made James Brower fierce when it
came to his comrades in combat, ever ready to rush to
their aid whatever the danger. He received the ultimate
compliment from Joey Fasanella, who had served with him
in Fallujah and now stood in this restaurant filled with
happy voices and the smell of good food.
"James is who you want to be with," Fasanella said.
The two Marines were joined by a third, Jay Braadt,
who had done two tours in Iraq and is now with the FDNY.
The three seemed as fine a trio of young men as you
could ever encounter, as fine as those Marines who are
remain in harm's way while most of us walk around as if
there were no war.
"They're all so good," Elaine Brower said. The dinner
was one James Brower might have dreamed of in Fallujah.
He kept smiling just as he had until that moment he was
asked to pose with his family as too many Marines never
Originally published on October