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“That can’t be right” I thought as I looked at the voicemail. It was 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 13, 2021.
Hi Dan, this is CTLaw. We met in DC a couple of years back. I had heard from Carol this morning that Boss Mongo was taken to the hospital with an apparent heart attack. I do not know the status. I’m keeping track. If I hear back. I’ll let you know. (this is slightly redacted to protect CT).
I was truly grateful that CT would call and skeptical, the axiom “first reports are always wrong” echoing in my head.
I called BTMM with some mild uneasiness assuming even if he did have a heart attack he’d be OK. I pictured her picking up and telling me she was standing next to him and he was charming the nurses.
She didn’t answer.
I found Brendan’s number and hit the green phone. It rang a few times then picked up. I was expecting the Boss instead I heard background noise and then between gasping sobs I heard Carol wail “oh Dan…”
I knew he was gone.
I pulled the phone from my ear as I started to cry and looked to heaven gutturally growling through my tears notifying the Lord one of our own had arrived.
Not long thereafter I got BTMM’s permission (via the Ricochetti pipeline) to notify folks. I posted on Ricochet and looking back it may have been a little blunt for some. Boss and I grew up in a culture where dying happened and we dealt with it accordingly. I also put it out to the Facebook Special Forces community breaking my five-plus year Facebook fast. The response was swift and epic.
I was notified via text Thursday afternoon that his service would be Saturday, July 18 at 11 a.m. at St. Justin Martyr Church, Key Largo, Florida in less than 48 hours. Seems their church was booked up for several weeks and that Saturday it was available. So. Off. I. Went.
I arrived at the hotel in Key Largo at 7 a.m. on Saturday. It was a Marriott resort with folks already up, brightly dressed in swimsuits and SCUBA gear, heading for the beach, a stark contrast to what lay ahead for me and friends and family of the Boss. I showered and dawned my clothes for the day, dark slacks, a gray shirt, and a black tie. I remember thinking the Boss would want me in a pair of shorts, my “Old Guys Rule” t-shirt, and my Combat Diver hat. I had just been contacted by an old mutual friend for some coffee when Boss’s daughter texted me and asked if I’d come to the viewing. I was honored.
I arrived at the viewing at 9:30 a.m, took a deep breath, and entered. The room was small and dark with three rows of chairs on each side and a coffin at the front. I greeted and/or met his family in a flood of hugs and tears. I moved to Carol. She was on the first row on the right side sitting with her daughters. I took a knee next to her chair, and we embraced for some time. I asked if I could approach the casket.
It was closed with a beautiful cotton American Flag draped over it. I was well into the DABDA cycle of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and, under the bargaining heading, I had been trying to convince God to let me see him just one more time. I put my hand on the casket and was briefly overwhelmed by grief, the reality that my friend’s husk was inside and he was really gone. I pulled myself together and went and sat with the Boss’ two younger daughters and Carol. She had his rosary in her hand. She told me he had left it out Tuesday morning and that was unusual. She also had taken a picture of his list of “to do’s.” He wasn’t feeling good, it was on his list. Let that sink in…I jump right to the first “A for anger” in the DABDA cycle.
At approximately 10:30 we moved to the church. The church was a beautiful classic Catholic Church with an island Spanish flair. Folks filtered in and took seats and the family protected Carol politely asking people to wait until the reception. The Catholic Funeral Mass went without a hitch. I had a Mongo moment. At one point the singer asked us to join him in singing the hymn On Eagles Wings. The song was sung in a beautiful, opera-like fashion. I pictured Mongo being next to me and us looking at each other smirking at being asked to “join right in…” “Sure, let me get my tux and run through a few scales…”
The highlight of the ceremony for me was Mongo’s brother doing the Eulogy. He detailed his life and laid out what we all know. He was a good son, loyal brother, a loving husband, a dedicated father, and a staunch friend, all wrapped in an untamed package. His description of their life together overseas growing up was fantastic including the story we’ve all heard. Boss was running for his life in Monrovia, Liberia after observing a riot then being singled out as a target. Miraculously some Special Forces guys stepped out of a gate and pulled him to safety. He quickly assessed these guys as calm, cool, and not to be trifled with. This event changed his life by giving him focus and something to shoot for. Not long after he applied for West Point. As he told others that he was going to West Point he received the same response across the board from all who knew him “you?!?”
The ceremony ended with us rolling his casket out of the sanctuary. Once outside, Taps played, and the flag was removed, ceremonially folded, and presented to Carol. The military among us watched at attention and virtually everyone there had tears running down their faces.
Afterward, we lifted him into the hearse and joked that he had not lost that much weight. Then we moved to the reception hall of the church. We were greeted by the Chaplain of Special Operations Command South leading us in “The Ballad of the Green Beret” and the Special Forces Prayer. This was followed by a slideshow video of Brendan’s life and, finally, his youngest daughter had saved his voicemails of him checking in on her and inserted those into a short video as well, it was wrenching.
I’m going to just share some thoughts and observations from the experience and day.
At the reception, BTMM’s brother got up and asked if his community would say a few words. His community is eclectic. His family (including his kids’ friends to whom he was legendary), the Key Largo community, his West Point brethren, and his Special Operations community were all in attendance. And the Ricochetti were there in spirit. I estimate there were 125+ at the funeral and I estimate there would have been at least twice that if there had been time to react.
His youngest, AKA Boo / Demonseed, opened with a toast of Irish whiskey. All I could think of is Boss’ shirt that says “good whiskey & bad decisions” because shooting whiskey quite literally at church seems like a bad decision.
The Nanny (his eldest daughter) got up next and just praised her dad. She cited his undaunted commitment to his family despite his absences and that he was always there for her. She rightly commented that BTMM was the rock for the family when he was gone, which was often. Hilariously she got up early to make sure the drinks had not gone to her head when she wanted to speak. And that was good thinking.
Throughout the evening his roommate from West Point talked about his steadfastness as a friend and his penchant for writing, including sharing a story of how Brendan had written a paper for him in a shared class and he ended up getting a better grade than him.
I heard stories of the Boss meeting BTMM. I happened in Ft. Steward Ga. It was a soldier-nurse get-together with pre-BTMM supposedly there to meet someone else. She was less than impressed with her beau and after a few hours told her friends “I like that one…” To which they responded, “no Carol!, not that one…!” Him being feral and all. Later that evening when they had a chance to speak the Boss told her “I am going to marry you….” and the rest is history.
His kids told a story about the evening prior. The family threw flowers into the Atlantic and sent up lanterns. We were all laughing because the description of the lantern lighting looked to be a trip to the ER for several folks as a couple of the lanterns burst into flames as they were lit in the breeze prior to launching. Then his son said something that will make me smile forever. “Dad would have hated it. We should have put his casket in a boat, made a funeral pyre Viking style, and launched it. Then we all could have shot at it with burning arrows. He’d loved that!” And we all laughed with tears in our eyes acknowledging the truth of that statement.
I related our friendship starting as instructors starting in 2000. He literally said something smart and funny within five minutes of meeting me. And not being a wallflower I said something back and we were both laughing immediately liking each other. He would have called it a witty repartee, I would have called it yucking it up. He was an excellent instructor truly caring about the Special Forces Community and only wanting to put the best officers out of our training particularly with his name on them. And doing Jiu-Jitsu with him was a whole new world. You haven’t really lived until Boss Mongo has you on your back, his knee in your chest, and is bearing down on you. There were things I did not share. He got me into Ricochet. Based on our relationship and “witty repartee” I was going to call myself “Moss Bongo” and reverse his avatar just because that’s the way we roll. We laughed about this but I thought the Ricochet community was not ready for that type of shenanigans. He had a curious way of having more confidence in you than you had in yourself. And Boss was one of a handful of guys that carried me through the Niger ambush my son survived and the fiasco that followed. He, like me, could see and feel it 360 degrees from the standpoint of a father and a teammate. We spoke often during that time and I am forever grateful for his presence and wisdom.
At one point at the reception, a retired Sergeant Major (SGM) from SOCSOUTH got up. An SGM is the senior enlisted man at the command and generally rough around the edges. He is retired but like Boss, worked as a civilian at the command. He, as most of us, was devastated by the news. He had known the Boss for at least a decade. I can’t relate all the stories but being an SGM it was less than five minutes before an “F” bomb dropped. Some in the crowd were clearly uncomfortable and the old soldiers laughed “yes he just went there, it was only a matter of time.” Due to his penchant to be verbose his guys were yelling in unison “get to the point!” Clearly an inside joke from the folks Brendan worked with. It was high entertainment to be sure.
We returned to the hotel and I ended up sipping drinks and chatting with friends and family managing the waves of grief together until roughly midnight.
I will close by saying the outpouring of care and love from Ricochet is overwhelming. From the staggering response to my post sharing his passing, to your tributes to Boss Mongo, the rapid collection of his posts and appearances, to your messages directly to me wanting to help in some way is highly honoring of him and his family and humbling to say the least. I am watching and waiting and you all will know the minute they need something and I think we can help. The family wants to publish the book. I have told them folks in Ricochet are standing by to help. I am in contact with BTMM and the kids. If you are of the mind to, pray for all of them, it’s a long road back. I assess that the doldrums of grief are upon us, everyone just sitting in the pain waiting for it to lessen.
And it will lessen then we can slowly but steadily start living again.
Boss Mongo would gently but strenuously require it of all of us.
He is forever my friend.
De Oppresso LiberPublished in