Red tie and black suit, the lone survivor stood tall in front of the empty chairs in the Killinger Auditorium.
All attending Sam Houston State University’s 14th President’s speaker at 11 a.m. on Wed. Sept. 29 were out of their seat on their feet, clapping, with full respect for the man on stage: decorated Navy SEAL and best-selling author, Petty Officer 1st class Marcus Luttrell.
The President’s Speaker program was “established to bring prominent leaders to our campus for the benefit of students, the university community, and the community at large,” University President, James Gaertner, said as he opened the lecture.
“It is intended to introduce us all to inspirational stories to learn and grow from observing those noble through living successful and inspirational lives, and particularly in the case of our speaker today, that exhibited physical, moral, and emotional courage,” he said.
Whether it was the experience of crawling through Afghanistan, paralyzed from the waist down, watching his friends and fellow soldiers hit the ground, being blown off the mountain by an RPG, or surviving the rescue helicopter crash that killed 16, Luttrell shared the good, the bad, and the ugly of his wartime experiences.
A story that can be found in his 2007, #1 New York Times Best-Seller Lone Survivor. “People are going to look at it at a lot of different levels, it’s a military book obviously because I was in the military when this went down, but it’s about friendship and a true test of what someone is made of,” Luttrell said in a conference with The Houstonian prior to the lecture.
Luttrell said the biggest picture is that there are good people in Afghanistan.
“A lot of people don’t realize that, I didn’t even realize that. I thought everybody was bad. I didn’t have any respect for anybody out there. Then the next thing I know I’m being saved by a village, an Afghan village,” he said.
In the lecture good people were emphasized as the inspiration for his book, inspiration found in the face of death. “I made a promise to God, while I was lying in the mountain, to keep the memory alive,” he said.
The mountains in Afghanistan held the memories of a four man team out-numbered by a Taliban force, a nightmare relived in his lecture about the meaning of determination, the power of teamwork, and what effective leadership truly is.
Luttrell said this war is not black and white, and there are shades of gray.
“It was never my position to question why we were there. I’m a soldier, I follow orders, it was my job,” Luttrell said, “but to see the faces of the good Iraqi people when we walked on the house, and they [are] like thank god you’re here, you know.”
Despite all the tragic experiences and hardships he faced during Operation Redwing, he went back to war after he recuperated.
“I don’t know what it was but they took something from me, my soul or something, so I went back to war,” Luttrell said.
In 2006 Luttrell retired from the military, and received the Navy Cross for his heroism in 2006 from President George W. Bush.
When he stood in the oval office the day he received the Navy Cross, George W. Bush told him if he ever needed anything to call him directly.
Luttrell keeps in touch with him and speaks highly of the former president. Luttrell said “you’ve got to be a better man than me to sign up for that”.
In the eyes of those who admire him, Luttrell is already the better man.
“I thought it was incredible; it’s not a job I could do at all. It’s absolutely incredible that he was able to go through all that and be able to talk about it, just mind-blowing,” Student Government Association President, Ryan Bridges said. “It puts every bad day that I’ve ever had into perspective.”
SGA vice president Lance Weaver said he also found the lecture awe-inspiring.
“It makes you feel about two inches tall and realize that if it wasn’t for people like that, then we wouldn’t be here. You can’t ever express the gratitude for someone like that, I really appreciate him. It’s very humbling to have him as a Sam Houston Alumni,” Weaver said.
From dignitaries, students, and community members, the crowd was full of diversity with a range of very special guests including: Representative Lois Kolkhorst, Senator Steve Ogden, Senator John Whitmire, Regent Trisha Pollard, Mayor J. Turner, City Manager Bill Baine and County Judge Danny Pierce.
Among the special guests, dressed in blue with a guardian angel on her chest, the man of the hour’s mother, Holly Luttrell, sat front row.
“My family loves America and what we do, we do it for all of you, and the fight goes on. His twin brother leaves on his sixth deployment in the Spring, so we’re still at it. That’s five times for Marc and six times for Morgan. We do we what we do because we think it’s the right thing to do,” Holly Luttrell Marcus’s mother said.