Memorial Day 2023: ‘Be Bold. Be Brief. Be Gone.’

The inspiring words of fallen U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Megan McClung loom even larger on Memorial Day.

The final resting place of U.S. Marine Corps Maj. McClung in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.

By Tom Sileo Published on May 29, 2023

Years before she made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, future U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Megan McClung added a sentence to a book of quotes she had been collecting since childhood. It was uttered by Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale nearly a century before America’s first Memorial Day.

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” Capt. Hale said before he was executed by the British.

Like thousands of valiant men and women who have been willing to lay down their lives in defense of our freedom, Megan would end up doing so selflessly and with a clear understanding of the risks she faced after choosing to follow her father’s footsteps down the storied path of military service.

“We’re all going to die,” Megan told one of her friends in high school. “I’d rather die on the battlefield.”

After becoming the first female to be accepted to Admiral Farragut Academy, Megan went on to attend the United States Naval Academy as a member of the Class of 1995. Undeterred by a national ban on women in combat while studying and training in Annapolis, she took the advice of her Marine Corps combat veteran father and chose a career in public affairs. At the time of Megan’s graduation, telling the stories of those in combat was arguably the best way for a female service member to get as close as possible to the front lines.

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America was in a relatively peaceful period in its history until six years after Megan became a Marine Corps officer. On September 11, 2001, Megan’s life was forever changed along with millions of fellow Americans serving in the military. From that day forward, Megan resolved to do whatever it took to reach the battlefield, even though she was still technically forbidden simply because she was a woman.

Frustrated by her initial career path inside the Marine Corps, Megan decided to exit active duty ranks and become a reservist. She then took a job as a U.S. military contractor in Kuwait. As soon as she arrived in the Middle East, Megan relentlessly began asking her new bosses to send her to Iraq so she could help tell stories of deployed American heroes and build relationships with the Iraqi people. After some initial resistance, Megan was stationed in Baghdad.

Despite nearly being killed during her first stint in Iraq and helping bury a fellow Marine reservist when she got home, Megan was undeterred. She rejoined active duty ranks and requested an immediate deployment to the most dangerous place in the world in 2005-06: Iraq’s volatile Al Anbar province.

While stationed in Fallujah, Megan was promoted to the rank of major and became a mentor for many younger, fellow female service members. While giving instructions on how to deal with the media, Maj. McClung told her Marines to abide by what had become both her professional and personal motto: “Be Bold. Be Brief. Be Gone.” Nobody who ever heard Megan utter the phrase would ever forget hearing her say it.

December 6, 2006, was Maj. Megan McClung’s last day on earth. After escorting a Fox News crew that included retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North through war-ravaged Ramadi, Megan played with the son of one of several local sheikhs who was helping American forces fight al-Qaeda in Iraq and other terrorist groups.

Hours after the above photograph was taken, Maj. Megan McClung was killed in action while escorting a team of Newsweek journalists through Ramadi. Also killed in the enemy roadside bomb attack were U.S. Army Capt. Travis Patriquin, 32, and Spc. Vincent Pomante III, 22. Megan was 34 years old when she died.

While preparing to write BE BOLD: How a Marine Corps Hero Broke Barriers for Women at War, I was flipping through a military field book that was mailed to Megan’s grieving parents from Iraq with the rest of their daughter’s belongings. It was then that I found a green index card where Megan first wrote her enduring motto. I also found a gold star sticker with another quote scribbled in Megan’s handwriting. 

“I don’t believe in regrets,” Megan wrote. “All my experiences – even the ones that didn’t turn out – I firmly believe they were all worth it.”

Major Megan McClung was the first female U.S. Naval Academy graduate in American history to lose her life in combat and the highest-ranking female Marine officer killed during the entire war in Iraq. As many military leaders and scholars have since noted, she helped pave the way for the current generation of women in the military.

On this Memorial Day, we remember Megan and the thousands of fallen heroes who gave their tomorrows for our todays. From the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan, these remarkable men and women were willing to sacrifice everything without asking for anything in return.

In Megan’s case, I can say without question – backed by those who knew her best – that she would do it all over again if given the chance. That is why we honor the fallen on Memorial Day: those who’ve lost their lives defending our way of life were truly the best our country had to offer.

Major Megan Malia Leilani McClung lived a bold and brief life with no regrets before she was suddenly gone. As she watches down on us with her late father, may the noble and faithful examples set by these two Marines remind us to not only appreciate, celebrate and emulate our nation’s departed warriors on Memorial Day, but every day.

“Be Bold. Be Brief. Be Gone.”


Tom Sileo is a contributing senior editor of The Stream. He is the author of the recently released Be Bold and co-author of Three Wise MenBrothers Forever8 Seconds of Courage and Fire in My Eyes. Follow Tom on Twitter @TSileo and The Stream at @Streamdotorg.

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