They were both Irish Catholic warriors, so close in life that they were buried beside each other in Arlington National Cemetery when both paid the ultimate price.

Brendan Looney was the oldest of six brothers and sisters -- Bridget, Erin, Kelly, Stephen and Billy.  They were raised in Maryland and, according to parents Kevin and Maureen, all the kids looked up to Brendan.

Travis Manion, meanwhile, was born into a military family which eventually settled in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  Some called him a “warrior-poet” because he mingled his driven streak with an introspective one.

Looney and Manion met in the Naval Academy, where they were roommates.  Pretty soon it was clear to everyone who knew them that they were destined to become best friends.  

If their matching athletic abilities and senses of humor didn’t make that clear, then Travis joining Brendan on dates with Brendan’s future wife, Amy, certainly made the bond between the two men clear.

Travis was deployed to Iraq in 2005.  In April 2007, under heavy fire in Fallujah, Travis was killed while battling back the enemy, and trying to give medics an opportunity to care the wounded.  Travis Manion was 26 years old.

Brendan was training to become a NAVY Seal when he heard his best friend was killed.  Friends and family say Looney’s dedication to the service grew even stronger, now that Brendan was inspired by his best friend’s sacrifice.

In the summer of 2008, Brendan Looney was married, and then deployed to Iraq.  He’d survived over two years of combat by September of 2010 when he was scheduled to return home to his wife.  Just before Looney’s tour ended, however, his helicopter crashed, killing Looney and eight others.

The story of Looney and Manion’s friendship is outlined in a touching new book entitled Brothers Forever: The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL That Transcended Their Ultimate Sacrifice (Da Capo), co-authored by Manion’s father, Tom, himself a retired Marine colonel.

One of the most poignant moments in the book comes before Brendan is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Both families decided that it would be fitting that they rest eternally side by side.  So Manion, who’d been buried closer to his family’s home, was disinterred and buried beside Looney at Arlington.

Stories such as Looney’s and Manion’s are always hard to hear, especially around Memorial Day which just passed. It is fitting and proper at this time of year to remember the sacrifices of those who’ve died in service of their country.
Unfortunately, the problems facing America’s military families do not end once Memorial Day comes and goes.  Look no further than the ongoing controversy engulfing the Veteran’s Affairs department in Washington.

Just this week, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called for deeper investigation into poor services and potential fraud at VA hospitals across the country.

“Only the Department of Justice and the FBI have the resources, the expertise and the authority to do a prompt and effective criminal investigation of the secret waiting lists, potential destruction of documents, falsification of records -- in effect, the cooking of books and covering up that may have occurred,” Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal told the CBS show Face the Nation.

Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, himself a veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, added, “Department of Justice needs to get involved.” As officials go about figuring out what exactly went wrong at the V.A., it is inevitable that this debate will become partisan.  Republicans will dub this an “Obama problem” rather than a “get veterans the services they need” problem. 

So, sadly, it must be pointed out that Republicans and Democrats are both terrible at handling veterans’ affairs.  Remember the shocking conditions exposed at Walter Reed Medical Center back in 2007?  Or the scandalous burial mistakes at veteran cemeteries which date back to the early 2000s?

The simple fact is, if we are going to demand so much from young men like Brendan Looney and Travis Manion, those fortunate enough to return from their service deserve much better then we are currently giving them.

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