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Hero Marine reenlists so others might return home

Marine Sgt. James Brower is back from Fallujah, having survived blasts from six improvised explosive devices.

"Six IEDs?" people kept saying at his welcome home party.

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, smile!"

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 inscription.

"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 mother said.

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 will again.

Originally published on October 31, 2006

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