"Locked, cocked and ready to rock," said Marine Lance Corporal Dimitri Gavriel, 29, before the start of the Fallujah offensive. "That's about how we feel."
Most Brown University graduates don't speak this way. In fact, if Lance Corporal Gavriel had still been on the Brown campus, his comments might have been censored as hate speech. But then, there aren't many Brown University graduates in Fallujah, where the very concept of hate speech would give any Marine a chuckle. It was in Fallujah, on November 19th, that Dimitri Gavriel was killed by enemy fire.
Gavriel had been building a successful career on Wall Street as a real estate securities analyst, working for firms including Banc of America Securities, Credit Suisse First Boston, and J.P. Morgan. When he was laid off during the market doldrums of 2002, he became determined to join the Marines, inspired in part by the deaths of four friends in the September 11th attacks. The Marines rejected his initial application, concerned about his age and old injuries from his high school and college wrestling career. He was 27 at the time.
"He told them, 'I know I'm a little bruised, I'm a little older than the other guys. But I can do anything they can do,'" said Gavriel's sister, Christina. He trained and lost 40 pounds. The Marines gave in, and took him.
The day before he left for boot camp, he was offered a new job in finance. His friends and family pleaded with him to take it. Christina Gavriel even told him he could live in her Manhattan apartment rent free if he would stay in civilian life. But the next morning, he headed for Parris Island as planned.
There are no battalions in the U.S. military composed of securities analysts, just as there are none made up of NFL players. Gavriel's sacrifice, like that of Pat Tillman earlier this year, stands out as a heroic anomaly within a field more associated with getting ahead than getting even. Both Tillman and Gavriel attained coveted, symbolic positions in American life -- professional athlete, professional capitalist -- and traded them in for a common destiny as patriots.
"He wanted to go there," said Christina Gavriel. "Everyone else in the family didn't because they were scared for him. Once he enlisted though, we all supported him."
The NFL has taken steps this season to honor Tillman; one can quibble with the adequacy of the league's efforts, but their heart seems to be in the right place. I hope that New York's financial community will do something similar to honor one of its own. Perhaps some of the firms that employed him could start a program in his name to provide financial and investment consulting to military families at nominal charge. As for Brown University, probably nothing could pay tribute more effectively, while also redressing past sins, than a reinstatement of ROTC on campus.
I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen, but in light of what Gavriel did, it seems only right to hope.
Neither Pat Tillman nor Dimitri Gavriel are deserving of greater honors than their less famous, less prosperous comrades. But their examples serve as reminders to the elite communities they left behind: your very existence relies on the deeds of men like this, and many other men who are often no older than boys. Men you might not acknowledge if they asked you a question in the subway; men you might sneer at if they asked for your autograph.
This is a very cynical, and hence very ironic, age. It is sometimes difficult to appreciate that there are still people who will give up everything for a principle. I cannot think of two communities more in need of that reminder than professional sports and business.
"I would like the people to remember him as a noble man," said Dimitri Gavriel's mother, Penelope. Her son, she said, "wanted to become a great leader."
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