Semper Fidelis

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By Ken Begley

Semper Fidelis - Marine Corp motto in Latin meaning “Always Faithful.”


A young Washington County man named Derek Bartley died last week in a tragic accident at home.  He was 23.

You know death is so unnatural when it comes to a young person full of life.  Nobody wants to die, but there are no parents that want to bury their children.  I can only imagine the anguish of broken hearts for David and Laura.  It must be what hell is like.  

I never met Derek, but I know he was a remarkable young man.  

You might ask, “If you never met Derek, then how do you know what he was like?  Are these just kind words to strangers?”

These aren’t just kind words.  I know Derek by his actions.  

Let me explain.

Derek Bartley was a quiet young man in school and life.  Yet Derek had a passion and a goal. He decided at a young age that he wanted to be a U.S. Marine.  He deferred this dream after high school.  I’m certain his parents, as any parents would be, were glad for that choice.  I know I would be.  

These are dangerous times for the military, and especially for our Marines.  They’re always in the thick of war when our nation is in danger.  When the president calls 911 the Marines tend to answer that phone first.  

Derek went to work at a local factory after high school.  He was laid off a few months ago. Finding another job was impossible with the economy right now.  So Derek decided to return to his first dream and join the Marines.

Again, I can imagine what his parents thought when he told them his plans.  My assumption is they would be terrified.  That’s how I would be if my kid told me that, and I just completed my 34th year in the military.  I’ve served in the Navy and the Army on active duty and in the reserves.  

Two things impressed me about Derek. The first is that he joined the Marines.  The second is that he joined in the middle of a war.  

My belief has always been that there is no safer place to be on a battlefield than behind a platoon of Marines.  That’s because most of the action is going to be in front of them.  Don’t tell any of my Army or Navy buddies I said that.

Joining the active military in the middle of a war is a 99 percent guarantee of seeing real action within one year.  Afghanistan is a particularly nasty guerrilla war where it’s hard to see the enemy and even harder to fight him.  

Where do we get these brave young people?

I don’t know.

All I know is your money, your homes, your retirements and anything else you can think of that has value is worthless without your freedom.  The United States will remain the home of the free only as long as it is the land of the brave, and Derek was brave.

Now Derek had not yet left for basic training before he died. What made Derek a hero to me was the act of joining our armed forces.  


Because as one man said, “People in the military are going to get killed.  When they swear an oath of allegiance to defend America, they face that fact.  When a man becomes a part of our armed forces, his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished.  What he does after that is all in the line of duty.”

It’s true.

Another said, “Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.  It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

So Derek is a hero in my eyes.

You may ask, “Where is that loving God at times like these.”

He was there.

When Derek lost his job, he moved back in with his family before he was to depart for the Marines.  I think God must have known that Derek had little time left.  

God let him spend that time with his family and gave him a long goodbye.  I’m sure his whole family grew closer than they had ever been during those remaining weeks. I know his dad will remember those nights he spent playing basketball with him forever.  

When you see the hand of God, then God can’t be far behind.

It’s my belief that God knew Derek was ready to be with Him forever.  He is now held safe in the loving hands of an Almighty Creator who is most pleased by Derek’s offer of self-sacrifice to protect us all.  After all that’s what His son did.

I’m sure these words are little comfort to Derek’s family.  But try to remember The Marine Corp motto, because it is Derek’s motto as well in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Always faithful.  Always faithful.