I liked the guy from the moment I met him.
His name was Nick Xiarhos, a tall, dark-haired Marine. He projected physical strength, maturity, decency, and a self-confidence without bluster or bravado. He was a lot of the things any parent would want their kid to be at twenty-one.
Like me, Nick grew up in the Boston area. Talking like a couple of townies was part of our easy rapport, even though what we were talking about was difficult.
Nick had been deployed near Ramadi, Iraq back in April 2008. A suicide truck bomber had barreled toward the gate of a Marine compound, intent on killing as many people as he could. Two Marine guards at the front checkpoint stood their ground, and kept firing at the truck, trying to slow its driver and save their mostly sleeping buddies. The truck stopped short of the compound and exploded. The two guards were killed. But their bravery saved the lives of everyone else – including Xiarhos. Like a handful of other Marines who were there and told us the story back in January, he was humbled by this act of bravery.
In August I heard that Nick Xiarhos had been killed. He had come home from Iraq, and switched units for the chance to fight in Afghanistan. And there, on July 23rd, 2009, he and another Marine were killed by a roadside bomb.
Nick had this knack. The memory of him hung with you. President Obama had shaken hands with Xiarhos in passing after a speech this past April at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. When the president heard that a young Marine whom he had met had been killed, he wanted to meet the Xiarhos family. Mr. Obama's facing a tough decision whether to risk more American lives by increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. When he finally met Steve and Lisa Xiarhos, Nick's parents, he told them that Nick would stay in his mind as the face of sacrifice and the cost of freedom. Hearing that meant a lot to the family.
Nick's father is a police lieutenant in Yarmouth, Massachusetts. When Nick's body came home, he described himself as the "saddest – and the proudest --- man in the world." All of Yarmouth grieves the loss. There are two entrances to the town in the middle of Cape Cod. Each one of them has a memorial sign saluting Nick Xiarhos.
Wherever he went, Nick Xiarhos made his mark and left an impression.