Patrick Marc M. Rapicault – August 2007 Shipment HonoreeWar Never Ends
Getting to know the men of Whiskey Six—and the loved ones they left behind. By Phil Zabriskie
Posted Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2008, at 4:39 PM ET
In my youth, I knew Nov. 11 as my sister’s birthday. As I aged, I learned that it was also Veterans Day. Now, having spent time with American soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Philippines—and time elsewhere with soldiers from other nations—I think I have a much better understanding of what the day is designed to commemorate.
For the last three years, I’ve found myself looking past Veterans Day, to Nov. 15, which is now a more significant date on my personal calendar than many officially recognized holidays. It’s only b y a quirk of fate that the day means anything to me, but that quirk of fate had a lasting impact on me, and far more so on four different families.
I need to back up a little. In October 2004, I was halfway through my second stint with Time magazine’s Baghdad bureau. Conditions in Iraq were rapidly deteriorating. Mobility was limited, reporting increasingly dangerous. And in several places, working as an embedded reporter almost certainly meant coming under fire.
Ramadi was one of those places. Some military men considered it more dangerous than Fallujah, but, at that point, it still seemed like a good idea to spend time there with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, one of the outfits trying to keep the city from spiraling completely out of control. By chance, I was briefly billeted with the 2/5’s Whiskey Company, which was charged with, among other things, patrolling the main thoroughfare, known as Route Michigan, which almost guaranteed they’d get attacked. A week later, I returned for a few days to report on Ramadi and on combat stress among front-line soldiers.
During that second visit, I mainly rode in company commander Capt. Pat Rapicault’s Humvee, a vehicle with the call sign Whiskey Six. I’d initially thought Rapicault—”Frenchy” to his men—was Cajun, but I later learned he’d grown up in Martinique and France before attending high school and college in Mississippi and enlisting. He was joined by Cpl. Marc Ryan, a steely-eyed South Jersey native; Cpl. Lance Thompson, who hailed from Indiana farm country; and Lance Cpl. Ben Nelson, a Californian.
Late one night, Whiskey Company rode out to support other Marines. I sat behind Ryan, who drove. Rapicault was behind Thompson, who manned the radio, and Nelson was in the gunner’s hole. “We’ll probably get hit,” Ryan said. He’d know, I thought; he’d already served a bruising tour in Ramadi with the 2/4 Marines, then he re-upped and came back after spending only two weeks at home.
Indeed, he was right. Whiskey Company was ambushed twice that night. Whiskey Six was very nearly disabled by roadside bombs that detonated a few feet from the front tires. The wheels were flattened, the windshield spider-webbed and covered with engine oil. When Rapicault bellowed at Ryan to get moving, Nelson had to shout down directions so he could steer to safety.
Now I see that night as the most frightening experience I’ve ever had. Then, it was part of my job—and even more so, part of theirs. At the end of the month, my stint in Iraq ended. The battle for Fallujah commenced. Fighting continued in Ramadi. And on Nov. 15, I learned from the newspaper the next day, a suicide car bomber rammed Whiskey Six, killing Patrick Rapicault, 34; Marc Ryan, 25; and Lance Thompson, 21. Ben Nelson was seriously wounded but survived.
I didn’t know them well, but they may have saved my life. I happened to be in New York visiting my parents, so I went to Ryan’s funeral in Gloucester City, N.J. Later, I met Rapicault’s older sister, Christine Cappallino, who lived in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. The next year, on Nov. 15, I joined the Ryans for a memorial they held at a local bar. Two years later, I visited Lance Thompson’s family, the Rapicaults, and Ben Nelson, thinking I’d write about how they were handling their losses.
They were wary but welcoming, still mourning but generous. I think they felt the stories I’d written for Time about Ramadi gave them a window into what life “over there” was like for their sons and helped memorialize them in some way. They, in turn, gave me a window into their lives and the steps they were taking to protect and maintain the memories of those they’d lost—the gatherings, the T-shirts, the stickers and photo books, and the scholarship funds. I saw Gloucester City High pull out a stunning last-minute victory on the day they retired Marc Ryan’s jersey. I saw how Lance’s brothers, Matthew and Philip, his cousin Casey, and his mother, Melanie Smith, had all gotten the same tattoo Lance had on his wrist—the Chinese characters for gung-ho. And I saw that the Rapicaults, who had moved to a planned community in central Florida in the 1990s to be nearer to Patrick, were doing their mourning in isolation. Their English was shaky, leaving them largely unable to plug into the networks the Ryans and Thompsons had at their disposal. Cappallino had moved from New York to Florida to help out her father and stepmother (then 91 and 74, respectively), but she was finding it hard to adjust to the new surroundings. More to the point, they were heartbroken about Patrick, as was Vera Rapicault, his widow, who had moved to Oregon.
Ben Nelson had improved dramatically and was working again—as a radio dispatcher for the Plaster County’s sheriff’s office—but he still felt the effects of his injuries. The explosion had collapsed his lungs and severely burned his hands, neck, and face. Shrapnel had pierced his back, shattered his jaw, split his tongue, and broken seven teeth. His back and knee were badly bruised, likely from landing after the blast pressure popped him out of the turret into the air, which saved his life.
There had been hard times, a few ups—especially the birth of a daughter, Kaitlyn—and a lot of downs. His father and friends helped out as they could, but in the main, his greatest asset was his preternaturally poised wife, Emily. She was 21 when she got the call telling her Ben was wounded. “She grew up fast,” a friend of hers told me. “She’s everything to me,” Nelson said last winter.
Time couldn’t run the story I wrote, which was immensely frustrating for me and, I imagine, for the families as well. But they were extremely gracious about it. Melanie Smith and Linda Ryan took to comforting me about it; they told me that it was meeting each other that really counted. Our connection wasn’t much when measured temporally, and I daresay we had different opinions about the war itself, but I found myself opening up to them in ways I almost never do with people I write about.
A lot of people spent more time and faced more harrowing situations in Iraq than I did, but I think I’ve learned a few things about war through my various experiences in conflict zones. The biggest, I’d say, is that it doesn’t really end. It marks the people who experience it, and it marks their families, too. “It’s not what happens to you; it’s how you deal with,” Ben Nelson’s father told him at one of his low points. And that’s true, particularly, I think, with mourning. It doesn’t go away, but if you can make some peace with whatever happened—whether it’s by saying someone died doing something they loved or performing certain rituals or finding others who know the feelings involved—it gets a little easier to meet the days ahead.
Last year, on Nov. 15, Melanie Smith laid four roses at Lance’s gravesite in Indianapolis’ Crown Hill cemetery, red ones for Lance, Marc Ryan, and Pat Rapicault and a white one for Ben Nelson. “I notice [the anniversary],” Nelson said last year when I asked about it, but “I miss them just as much every other day.”
I don’t know exactly what I’ll do this Nov. 15, but it’s already been on my mind for a while, and I’m sure it will remain that way.Formerly a staff writer for Time magazine based in Asia, Phil Zabriskie now lives in New York. He has written for National Geographic, National Geographic Adventure, New York Magazine, and others.
Widow says her Marine husband was ‘fearless’Source: NCTimes.com, November 18, 2004
By: Teri Figueroa
Captain. Patrick Rapicault was born a French citizen. He died an American. The 34-year-old Marine Corps officer, a Carlsbad resident, was among Camp Pendleton-based Marines killed in enemy fighting in Iraq this week. Military officials said Rapicault, the commanding officer of his unit, died Monday in Ramadi, which is in the Al-Anbar province.
On Thursday, Rapicault’s widow, Vera Rapicault, tried to remain strong in the face of his death—”he’s in heaven, telling me to,” she said. She said the Marine Corps told her he died in a suicide bombing attack. Two other Marines died with him, she said.
The widow last spoke to her husband when his phone call woke her at 12:04 a.m. on Monday. “He said, ‘I was thinking about you and I love you with all my heart,’ ” she said.
The Marines, she said, told her that her husband died at about 6:45 am Pacific Standard Time—just hours after the couple’s last conversation. “He said, ‘I would love to come home and see you, but I am satisfied and happy with what I am doing.’ I am at peace with that,’ ” Vera Rapicault said of their last exchange, a hurried phone call.
Patrick Rapicault was born in France, and came as a foreign exchange student to the United States—to Mississippi, to be exact, and his use of the colloquialism “y’all” always came with his thick French accent. The young immigrant later attended college there, earning a degree in business.
But his heart was with the military, his wife said, and he joined the Marines. At about 25, Patrick Rapicault became an American citizen, and was thus able to pursue his dream of becoming an officer.
Vera Rapicault, a 1984 Vista High School graduate, met her “gorgeous” husband-to-be at a barbecue six years ago. After an engagement capped by their wedding at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Oceanside—in his dress blues that day, “he was more pretty than me,” Vera Rapicault said—the couple was sent to the East Coast. They eventually worked their way back to North County and bought a Carlsbad condo earlier this year.
Patrick Rapicault was “gung-ho” about the military, and about his deployment to Iraq, she said. “He ate, drank and slept the military,” she said. “He was the kind of man who wanted to be in the military, the kind of man you would want to be out there (in Iraq).” She said her husband had been in Iraq once before, and was injured with second degree burns in a bombing.
Vera Rapicault said Thursday that when he died, her husband was the commanding officer of his unit’s weapons company in the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.
In a story written a few weeks ago, a military publication on the Marine Corps Web site referred to Rapicault as the commanding officer of his unit’s Weapons Company. However, information provided by Camp Pendleton this week stated that Rapicault was the assistant operations officer. Pendleton officials said it was possible that Rapicault had become the commanding officer.
Vera Rapicault is planning her husband’s memorial, which she said she hopes will be next week at the same Oceanside church in which they married. He will be buried on Nov. 30 in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Patrick Rapicault was an honest man, she said, and a tough guy with a big heart, one who saw the Marines he led as “his boys.”
“I’ve never known anyone quite like him,” she said, “and I don’t think I ever will again. … I loved knowing he loved me.”
The sting of his death is still fresh, but Vera Rapicault holds tight to her knowledge that the man she calls her hero died doing what he believed in.
“Even though I knew he loved me and loved life, he was willing to put down his life for our country,” she said. “It puts him in a totally different category. … He was fearless.”
Marine’s Loyalty to Troops Recalled
Source: Washington Post, December 1, 2004
By Lila Arzua
The photograph of Captain Patrick Marc M. Rapicault appeared to be looking over the crowd of mourners gathered at the Old Post Chapel at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday. There he was with his dark hair cropped short, medals glistening against his chest, gaze as solid and determined as ever. Nearby, his body lay in a flag-draped coffin.
More than 100 family, friends and fellow service members had gathered to mourn the 34-year-old Marine who lost his life in Iraq. Rapicault, of St. Augustine, Fla., was killed November 15, 2004, in Anbar province. He was the 97th service member killed in Iraq to be buried at Arlington.
Rapicault was assistant operations officer for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. He had been quoted in numerous news accounts and stories about the war in Iraq and the troops’ experiences.
“You have to get over your feelings and keep on pushing, just for the simple reason that you have another 170 Marines to take care of and make sure they come back,” he told Time magazine shortly before his death.
He was interviewed for an October 25, 2004, article on the war that recounted Rapicault’s role as commander of Whiskey Platoon, leading his men on a counterinsurgency mission prior to the start of major fighting in Fallujah.
According to the Time article, Rapicault’s Humvee was struck by mortar fire and disabled during the patrol. It was the sixth time he had been hit, the article said. None of his men were killed in that attack, but Rapicault was prepared to give his life for his country. “It is a daily hit and run,” Rapicault later told Agence France-Presse.
Yesterday, a letter from a CBS correspondent who had covered him was read aloud to the mourners. A friend and fellow serviceman recalled his “bone-crushing handshake” and his loyalty to those he loved.
Rapicault had been awarded the Purple Heart, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and National Defense Service Medal.
He was born on the island of Martinique and moved to the French Riviera at age 5. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager. It was during his high school years in Mississippi that he developed his distinctive accent—part French and part southern, according to one of the speakers at the service. But “Frenchy,” as he was known to many, was proud of his mastery of English as a second language, and especially of a writing award he won.
Rapicault attended Delta State University in Mississippi and joined the Marine Corps Reserve. Upon graduating with a bachelor of science degree in business management, he converted to active duty. In 1997, he completed Officer Candidate School and reported to Camp Pendleton in California. The following year, he graduated first in his class from Army Ranger School.
At his grave yesterday, a Marine band played the hymn “Eternal Father Strong to Save.” Captain Daniel Hench presented a U.S. flag to Rapicault’s wife, Vera, and Staff Sergeant Charles Dorsey presented another to his mother, Nicole Rapicault.
In addition to his wife and mother, Rapicault is survived by his father, Gabriel Rapicault, and a sister, Christine Cappillino.
Marine officer posthumously receives Silver StarSource: Marine Corps News, Dec. 2, 2005
By Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis, MCB Camp Pendleton
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Dec. 2, 2005) — “ He led from the front,” said 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment Bn. commander Lt. Col. Craig S. Kaczynski during Capt. Patrick M. Rapicault’s Silver Star ceremony Dec. 2.
Rapicault assumed command of Weapons Company, 2nd Bn. 5th Marines during his deployment to Iraq while they were in contact with the enemy on 24 September 2004. As company commander, Rapicault led his Marines through 50 firefights and 27 improvised explosive device ambushes between the time he took command of the unit and until he was killed Nov. 15, 2004.
For his gallantry, Rapicault was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for combat valor. His wife, Vera Rapicault, accepted the award on his behalf during the ceremony at 5th Marines memorial park located in Camp San Mateo.
According to the citation, he directed the fire and maneuver of his company with complete disregard to his own personal safety. Despite being the first Marine wounded in his Battalion and his company suffering the heaviest casualties during the street fighting, Captain Rapicault always displayed an infectious enthusiasm that motivated every Marine to fight hard and recover quickly from battle.
On every mission, Captain Rapicault’s intuitive and calm combat leadership ensured success on the battlefield, which limited damage to vehicles and friendly casualties.
Also according to the citation, He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.
“I was 200 meters away when he passed. It was hard because he was ‘that man’,” remembered 1st Lt. Shawn M. Maurer, an infantry officer who served with Rapicault in Iraq. “My fondest memory of him was his courage, you could see it in his eyes. I could look in his eyes and everything was going to be okay because he was the best Marine Corps officer I’ve ever served with,” Maurer said.
Rapicault’s heroics not only affected his Marines but also reached Marines throughout the 1st Marine Division. First Marine Division commanding general Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski said “We were blessed not only as a country and Marine Corps, but also as 1st Marine Division to have a leader like Capt. Rapicault” during the humble ceremony.
Natonski said Rapicault would never be forgotten. “He is as alive today as the day he died,” said Lt. Col. Randall P. Newman, former commanding officer of 2nd Bn., 5th Marines. “He is truly the backbone of what the corps is today. His memory goes on forever.”
Marine captain — killed in Iraq — featured in ‘60 Minutes’ report
Rapicault was featured in a report about U.S. Marines fighting in Ramdi, Iraq, that aired on the “60 Minutes” news show on CBS on Jan. 16, 2005. Read a transcript of the report at: