Remembering the Protector

John O'Leary, a 1995 alumnus, speaking to students in the gym.
John O'Leary '95

“Do you want me to beat him up for you?”

Senior year of high school I stood too close to a friend of mine as he was backing his car down a driveway. He ended up running over my foot and crushing my ankle.

After a couple of days at home, I returned on crutches. Between classes that first day back a guy I seldom talked to came up, put his arm around me, looked me in the eyes and shared he heard what happened. Scott asked if I was ok. Responding that I was fine, he then asked the question above.

After telling him I really was ok, it was an accident, he flashed a sweet grin and told me if I needed anything to let him know.

Scott Wirtz was always impossible to put in a typical box.

He was our school’s toughest running back but wasn’t defined by sports or hanging with the cool group. He was a strong, fearless kid, but never bragged, never showed off, never talked about it. During a season of life when the big, popular kids pushed around the smaller, less popular ones, Scott was one of the big popular kids but was actually kind to the little, less popular ones. He was a protector. Even then.

Which is why so few of us were surprised after graduation to learn he joined the military and became a Navy Seal. If anyone could do that, it was Scott.

The last time I visited Scott was at Fort Bragg several years ago. I spoke at a meeting for the Special Forces. The Operators and their family members were present. Scott was there, too.

He approached afterward, had gained 50 pounds of muscle, still had a goofy smile, gave me a big hug, thanked me for speaking, made some small talk, and then he excused himself. He had to get going.

We learned late last week that Scott Wirtz was one of four killed in Syria.

My friends, tonight as we watch football and do homework and tuck kids in and fold laundry and live our carefree lives, remember in your thoughts and prayers the men and women positioned around the globe in harm’s way.

Tonight, look away from the television long enough to give thanks for the real heroes. They aren’t the ones playing football in some stadium. They’re actually the ones humbly serving, away from the bright lights, protecting the incredible freedom we have tonight.

And as you give thanks for that freedom, remember our friend Scott Wirtz. He was a humble guy, a constant protector, had a huge smile, and an even bigger heart.

He was a protector.

And he’ll be badly missed.

This is your day. Be like Scott. Live Inspired.

This essay was originally published on January 20, 2019, by 1995 De Smet Jesuit alum John O’Leary on his Facebook Page. John is a speaker, #1 national bestselling author of the book ON FIRE and host of the top 20 iTunes, business Live Inspired Podcast with John O’Leary. Get John’s inspiration in your inbox every week here. You can also connect with John on FacebookTwitterInstagramLinkedIn and YouTube for daily inspiration.


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