Dutiful Marine Had 'Followed His Heart' Back to Iraq
By Stephanie McCrummenWashington Post Staff WriterSaturday, May 6, 2006; B02
Capt. Brian S. Letendre had survived one tour in Iraq. In the early days of the invasion, his Marine battalion had rolled north from Kuwait, engaged in heavy combat at Nasiriyah and elsewhere, and Letendre had come through it all decorated with a "V" for valor.
He made it home to Woodbridge, to his wife, Autumn, and his newborn son, Dillon.
Even after two years of calm, though, Letendre never felt comfortable knowing his fellow Marines were still fighting a war, his friends and family said. So he volunteered to go back, accepting perhaps one of the most dangerous assignments the war has to offer.
Three weeks ago, Letendre returned to train Iraqi soldiers. He was killed Wednesday when a suicide car bomber attacked his observation post in Anbar province, military officials and family said. He was 27.
"Brian just didn't feel right being back here in the U.S. while other Marines were serving overseas," his family and friends wrote in a statement. ". . . Despite others telling him to stay back and be safe, Brian could not resist his call to duty."
Brian Letendre grew up in Woodbridge. He was a good student with a competitive streak, his friends said, and was captain of the soccer team at Potomac High School, where he graduated in 1996. He went on to Milligan College in Tennessee, graduating in 2000 with a degree in computer science and a wife, his college sweetheart, Autumn.
He and two childhood buddies had decided about the same time to join the Marines, and Letendre was commissioned a lieutenant in May 2000.
"It was kind of an unspoken thing we all wanted to do," said Capt. David Bann, one of the friends. "We all wanted to get out there and serve our country."
Letendre trained at the Quantico Marine Base to become a military infantry officer. He was deployed to Okinawa, Japan; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and then to Kuwait at the start of the war. His son was born the day before he crossed into Iraq.
He returned from Iraq in May 2003 and was assigned a year later to the Marine Forces Reserve Inspector/Instructor staff in Plainville, Conn. Although he did not talk about it much, Bann said, Letendre was anxious to return to Iraq.
"He just didn't feel like sitting back," Bann said. "He wanted to do his part."
Letendre volunteered for an 11-man "military transition" team that was to train Iraqi army recruits, who have been so relentlessly targeted by suicide bombers. Three weeks ago, the job took him to Tammin, in the Anbar province of Iraq -- the swath of desert west of Baghdad considered the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgent movement.
On Monday, Letendre sent his wife an e-mail saying that he missed her and Dillon dearly but that he felt proud to be serving in Iraq. On Wednesday, he was killed. Military officials did not specify where Letendre was in Anbar when the suicide bomber attacked. Letendre's family said he was on foot when his post "received a complex attack," including from a car bomber carrying an improvised explosive device.
In the family's statement, Letendre's parents, Milton and June Letendre, said they believed in their son and what he was doing in Iraq.
"Several times throughout his life, Brian could have chosen the easier or more comfortable path, but he didn't," the statement read. "He . . . followed his heart to where he felt he could help make this world a better place."
Besides his parents, his wife and 3-year-old son, Letendre is survived by his two brothers, Justin and Nick. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.