By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 26, 2010; W09
In 2004, Brendan Looney was out with his future wife, Amy. He'd invited her to see the movie "Mean Girls." But they weren't the only ones on the date.
"Why am I sitting here with Brendan and Travis?" she wondered in the theater. But she didn't mind, really. Travis Manion was Looney's best friend and his roommate at the Naval Academy. "It was like one of those things where Brendan didn't have to ask. Travis was always welcome," Amy said. And besides, "it was fun to watch them be able to laugh at silly, cheesy girl movies." Manion was like another brother for a man who held family at the center of his life.
Long before Brendan Looney was a husband and a Navy SEAL, he was the undisputed king of the Looney kids of Calvert County. The oldest of six (three boys and three girls), he played baseball and football at DeMatha Catholic High School. He had the power to decide which toy would be the top pick on his siblings' Christmas lists. He grilled his sisters' boyfriends on how many push-ups they could do.
"We raised our kids to believe that family was everything," said his father, Kevin Looney. "That they stuck together, or would come back together after a squabble, and that they always had each other's back." That mentality paved the way for the family unity run, a Looney tradition where everyone held hands and ran together up the hill in their back yard. "Even though some of us had littler legs," Brendan's younger sister Erin recalled. The point was to run hard, but hold fast.
Brendan's younger brothers, Steve and Billy, followed in his footsteps to Navy; for one season, all three played on the lacrosse team together. During Billy's first practice, Brendan showed no mercy, hitting him hard enough to send him to the turf coughing. He "annihilated me," Billy recalled. "Brendan said, 'Coach, he's soft, he needs it.'" It was an extension of the Looney family run. He'd make you tough, because life was tough. But try your best, and he was there to meet you, or carry you, or beat up anyone around who tried to mess with you.
Looney and Manion met in 2001, their plebe year at the Academy. "The first thing he mentioned about Brendan was his family, and how connected he was with his younger brothers," said Manion's mother, Janet. Travis, too, was a family guy, close to his parents and his older sister; it was something for the new friends to bond over.
For Looney, who always felt the responsibility of being the oldest, Manion was someone he could bounce ideas off of, instead of always feeling as though he had to be the one with the answers. "He looked up to Travis; Travis looked up to him," Amy said. "I don't think he would ever say that, but it was just one of those unspoken things."
They'd make plans to go out with a bunch of guys, but often Looney and Manion would just hang around and talk wrestling and lacrosse, or the Academy, or just the stuff of life. "It was almost like two girls talking," Janet said.
After graduation, however, it was time for the friends to become warriors. Looney was deployed to Korea and later began training to be a Navy SEAL; Manion joined the Marines and went to Iraq.
When Manion was killed by a sniper on April 29, 2007, Looney called Janet "just crying." He wanted to quit training in San Diego and come home. "I need to say good-bye," he'd told her.
"You don't need to say good-bye. Travis is with you," she had comforted him.
Looney promised her he was going to finish training in his best friend's honor. He ended up being voted Honor Man of his class, the one everyone else most looked up to.
When 29-year-old Looney died Sept. 21 in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan along with eight others, Amy knew she wanted her husband buried next to his best friend in Arlington National Cemetery. The trouble was, Manion wasn't in Arlington. His family had buried him near their family home in Pennsylvania; they hadn't learned until later that their son had wanted to lie in Arlington. For three years, the family had agonized about whether they should move him; after Looney died, the decision became clear.
"I know that Brendan would just be touched by that," Amy said. "It just seemed like a natural thing for them to be together. They're both in heaven right now; I felt like if each one is going to be there, better to be a team together."
On Oct. 1, Manion was reburied in Arlington; three days later, his best friend was laid to rest next to him. Later that month, at a charity dinner honoring the two men, a ceremony program included a picture of them together, young and strong in their uniforms.
"Warriors for freedom, brothers forever," it read.
Lonnae O'Neal Parker is a Washington Post staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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