Jon Ashley Brennan. Born February 13, 1982. My little brother.
Jon-Jon or “Bubba” was what we called him growing up. Yeah, I know, we were a creative bunch. I still have fond memories of of his white blonde hair. And him pushing his dump trucks down the sidewalk. And twice he tripped pushing his truck, and twice he knocked out some teeth. And clear memories of him being a momma’s boy, laying up next to our mom on the couch. All. The. Time.
Oh, we had so much fun as kids, even though we didn’t have much. I’d put my mom’s make-up on my baby sister and him[he was only like 3 or 4], romped in the snow and rain-filled ditches, swam the ocean in our cheap plastic pool, played with our cats and dogs, rocked Nintendo Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3 until our hands ached, created our own world with tattered sheets hanging from couch to chair and that was our mansion. And we were super tight.
Then I grew up. I got waaaaayy too mature and moody for my brother. We’d fight, push and yell, and to me, he just was a stupid little annoyance in my world. I was too consumed with my own teenage drama to give him much sisterly love. He was a quiet one, a gentle little boy who loved the women in his life: his momma, his younger sister and even his hateful older sister. But he needed more than I ever realized.
We were siblings, but our relationship became strained to a degree. I went to college in 1996 and he went his own direction in terms of bad behavior and he lost his nice, quiet soul in the process. Then he eventually ended up in jail. I couldn’t believe it and yet, it made me so mad. How could he do that? How could he torture my mom that way? I didn’t have time for this. Why? Why? Why?
Well, to say the least, that was the best thing to ever happen to him, to us as siblings. He was a high school drop-out, never excelling in school the way I wanted him to, the way I did. I tried to hard to make him be like me, but even as siblings, we are different in so many ways. He eventually found his way to a Job Corps. program, his self-esteem grew as he graduated with high marks, and he was becoming the man that was lacking in his life. Then he was off to enlist in the Army. Holy baloney! He’s going to be soldier!!!
I was very proud of him, and scared too, but I was more afraid of the alternative. He would move back home, run with the same troubling crowd, and end up where he started: in jail. He was a 20 year old man now, going off to make his family proud in Ft. Benning, GA where he would become a soldier. A soldier. And soldiers die and I didn’t want my little brother to die, even if it would be honorable.
He spent 12 weeks in boot camp and he was certainly a sight to see when my mother, my sister, our baby Haley and I traveled to watch this young man, a son, an uncle, a brother, all decked out in uniform, graduating during his Turning Blue ceremony. I watched my mom cry tears of pride; that was her only baby boy[and I can now relate about having a momma’s boy.] I was amazed, and felt like I knew him all along, even when I didn’t. That was my brother.
Then we was off to Korea for a year. And he came home for a few weeks in 2003, right after the Iraqi war began. If I ever questioned that my baby brother was a grown man, there was no denying it now. He stood taller, spoke firmly and shook hands like men do. You know, confidently and with meaning. I never could imagine Jon-Jon as Soldier Jon, but there he was standing in front of me. And I too was full of pride.
But as the inevitable would happen, he got orders to go to Iraq. I knew he had to go, but I still had the sinking feeling that I may never see him again. And I felt sad, but tried to be optimistic. He spent about 9 months over there and met his future wife, Sara, who was also in the Army. They married after they came back to the states in 2004 and welcomed their first son in September 2005. But soonafter his birth, he was sent to Iraq for the second time, but not before he and his new family got to visit with us in Missouri.
Jon kept moving up in rank and when I’d hear from him, I could hear the pride in his voice. He was taking college classes and optimistic. And he was somebody to me, to all Americans to whom he was anonymous. He was fighting in the Iraqi war, working to defeat terrorists, helping to build Iraq, and most importantly, protecting our country. This time he was in Iraq for one long year. I couldn’t imagine what Sara and many other Army wives must feel, raising their children while their husbands are on a mission. And the fear that they may have to do it alone, for the potential death of military fighters always looms in the distance.
Fortunately, Jon got to make it home again and we all hoped he would never have to go again. This was especially evident in August 2007 when our community lost a young solider Cpl. Rickey Bell. It was such a devastating event to their family and community wide, but from the time he was brought home to laying him to rest, I never saw such honor and diginity displayed and never felt more proud to see our communities come together to salute one of our fallen soldiers. And never do I wish that we ever have to do it again. And I cried silent tears in my heart, praying that my family would never have to know this family’s pain.
Then he called: He got orders to go back to Iraq for the third time! This tour of duty would last 15 months, his longest yet. By this time, his rank had brought him to Staff Sergeant. But that was a title, not a shield from bullets, IEDs, and random violence. I remember the day that he was to leave and he called me as I was out Christmas shopping. I stopped looking, trying to take in the conversation, secretly fearing this may be the last time we talk. Pessimistic, I know, but I thought, “This will be his third time over there, could he possibly make it out alive?”
He left a few weeks before Christmas in 2007, his son’s third Christmas, to go to Iraq to once again to defend our country and our freedoms. By this time, he got into the MySpace world, so communication was easier and it was nice to see pictures he posted while he was there. He called from time to time, you know, to let us know he was okay and that he couldn’t wait to come home. I tried not to dwell on the could-be’s and would-be’s, but every time the nightly news came about another convoy hit or soldiers killed, it never desensitized me: I still worried that it might be my brother to whom they were referring, that we just had not been notified yet.
But I’m happy and proud to say that my brother, Staff Sgt. Jon A. Brennan and the rest of his troop have made it back to the States. Each and every one of them. Now, I don’t know what you believe, but to me, God has had his hands, no, his arms around these guys and proved to me that miracles happen even in Iraq. This Friday, when he and his family arrive at our home, I’ll get to shake the hand of a brave soldier and hug this man I call my brother. And thank him for his service. In person.
About a year and a half ago, I was approached about a monument that our local V.F.W. was erecting in honor and in remembrance of local soldiers. Would you like to add anybody for $75?
You’re darn right, I would.
Jon Ashley Brennan, my brother, you have made so many proud to know you. To call you father, husband, son, brother, friend. And you are a hero to me.
I love you. Muffin.