Tennessee Alumnus

It Helps to Remember

It Helps to Remember

This was a good day for Mike and Molly Morel. Any day that their son, Brent, is remembered, is a good day for the Morels. USMC Captain Brent Morel (Martin ’99) died in combat on April 7, 2004, near the city of Fallujah while attacking an insurgent position in Iraq. For those who knew him, his heroic actions spoke volumes about a life lived in service to others and to his country.

The Morels describe their son as a red-haired, freckle-faced, energetic boy who was born in Nashville and reared in Memphis. He was a good athlete who also loved to hunt and fish. Tae kwon do appealed to his sense of discipline and added a measure of self-confidence that followed him through life. Brent graduated in 1994 from Bartlett High School, entered the University of Memphis, and joined the Marine Corps Reserve during his freshman year.

He was enthusiastic about the Marines. “He came back from boot camp determined to drop out of college and go on active duty,” Molly remembers. But Mike and Molly encouraged him to finish college and return to the Marines as an officer, an appealing prospect for their ambitious son.

Seeking a fresh academic start, Brent transferred to UT Martin and graduated with a history degree. After receiving an officer’s commission, he was selected for more specialized training to become a member of the Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance (Force Recon), which is composed of special-purposes units roughly analogous to the Navy SEALs, Air Force Air Commandos, or Army Special Forces.

When his assignment to Iraq came in late 2003, he was ready to go. “He was excited,” says Mike. “As parents, we were–,” he pauses, and Molly finishes the sentence, “fearful.” But there was reason to be optimistic. Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, had been captured, and images of celebration dominated the news from Iraq, so their minds were eased a bit. Understanding that their son was doing what he most wanted to do, they traveled to San Diego to see him off.

A significant conversation with Brent came weeks later when he called his parents the day that four American contractors were killed in Fallujah. Brent was in Fallujah, and he wanted them to know he was OK. His unit had been assigned to take over for an Army unit. But only a short time later came the day that forever changed life for the Morel family.

Recounting the day’s events as they were described to the family, Molly says Brent’s convoy was on patrol when it became trapped by insurgents. A rocket-propelled grenade hit the convoy’s lead Humvee, injuring all of the occupants, including one Marine who lost both hands. Brent immediately positioned the second Humvee to protect the disabled vehicle. An RPG then hit his vehicle, injuring no one but leaving his men in a kill zone in a disabled vehicle, so he had to make a decision.

“He had been trained to assault forward in a situation like that, which meant he had to run and attack the insurgents, or the guys in the kill zone would have been killed,” Molly says. “Their only hope was for him to assault the enemy, and the words that his guys have used [were], ‘It changed the momentum of the battle.'”

Brent and several of his men ran across open terrain, firing as they ran. Brent was killed in that assault. “We’ve been told his actions saved a lot of lives that day, and [the assault] did change the course of the battle. In fact, he was the only one killed,” says Mike. Besides the ‘Purple Heart,’ Brent received the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor as an award for valor in military action.

In tribute to Brent Morel, a Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation scholarship in his memory was totally funded before the first anniversary of his death. A classroom where he attended Ground Intelligence School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was named in his memory, and the outstanding graduate of Ground Intelligence School henceforth will receive the Captain Brent Morel Achievement Award.

Time has brought some healing to the Morels, who rely on their faith for comfort. Their son continues to be remembered by grateful Americans, and a remembrance of Brent always makes it a good day for Mike and Molly Morel. Then again, it’s hard for anyone to forget a real American hero.