(From Elliott Walker, TODAY Producer )
Navy SEALs are tough, highly trained and, frankly, pretty secretive, so when the TODAY show was offered an exclusive interview with a true SEAL operative about the bloodcurdling events he lived through battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, we knew this was something that doesn't come along every day, and we were excited. I've long been fascinated by the SEALs and admire them, so I was thrilled to work on the story.
Marcus Luttrell is 32 years old and joined the SEAL teams, as they're called, in January 2002. He's a big guy, 6'5", from East Texas with old-fashioned manners, but he has seen an unusual amount of combat, even for a SEAL, in Iraq in 2003 and in Afghanistan in 2005. And after you hear what he survived in Afghanistan, and how badly hurt he was, WATCH VIDEO you'll probably be even more amazed to hear that he returned to Iraq for a second tour of duty after that. In fact, he hasn't been back in the States very long. He retired last Thursday; Leading Petty Officer Luttrell is now a civilian.
His book, "LONE SURVIVOR," tells the heartbreaking story of Marcus's three SEAL comrades and friends who were killed in an epic battle with the Taliban, and how 16 more Special Forces guys who came to rescue them all died as well. Only Marcus lived to tell the story. It was the largest one-day loss of life the SEALs have experienced in their history, and it rocked their tightly knit community. The book honors the guys who died, so their story won't. (For more on the story, http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/19189482/)
It also honors the remarkable Afghan village of Sabray, which took Marcus in and defended him against the Taliban until he could be rescued. The Taliban threatened to kill every member of the village headman's family unless they gave Marcus up; how many of us would take that risk for a stranger?
I found reading Marcus's story much like watching a very violent yet very emotional movie. When he writes that his heart nearly broke when one of his comrades, Petty Officer Danny Dietz, died in his arms on the battlefield, I grew short of breath. His description of what SEALs call a Ramp Ceremony, when the caskets of fallen SEALs are solemnly placed on transport planes to go home, left me in tears.
But some of the saddest, and happiest, moments in his story are about his family. As a mother, I suffered for his mother, who cried when he left for boot camp, and 6 years later, when she got the call from the Navy reporting that Marcus was "missing in action" in Afghanistan. She also had to endure television and print reports that he was already dead when the Navy insisted it was too soon to say.
Luckily, Marcus has a twin brother, Morgan, who is also a SEAL, still on active duty. They've always been very close: their motto is "From the Womb to the Tomb". Until recently they shared a house, and they talk several times a day.
Even though days went by without good news from the Navy, Morgan insisted that he was absolutely sure his brother was still alive. They had the kind of psychic connection that twins often talk about feeling, and he knew. And he was right. For his part, Marcus says that every time his situation seemed particularly desperate, he would ask himself, "how would Morgan get out of this?"
In the SEAL community, Marcus Luttrell is now sometimes referred to, with admiration and respect, as "The One" - the one who survived when no one else did. Yet being singled out like that feels wrong to a SEAL - their training is all about teamwork, bonding with other SEALs and supporting one another. Being "The One," especially when you've just left your team environment for a new life, could get lonely. I was honored to get to talk to Marcus Luttrell and awed by the story of his bravery, suffering, resilience, and loyalty to his friends; but mostly I was happy to think that a twin is never alone, and after all he's been through, Marcus and his brother will always have each other.