Sitting astride their surfboards in the chilly Pacific on a late California morning, dozens of the men and women who had been close to Glen Doherty watched solemnly as a longtime friend poured the fallen former SEAL's ashes into the ocean, while yelling at the top of his lungs, "I love you, Glen!"
Soon everyone was shouting and splashing, some crying as they did, but most cheering – they were sending Glen home, mixing his ashes into the water where he had spent so much time as a surfer and as a SEAL.
Then the members of the group said their private goodbyes and tossed purple and red flower petals into the water. They paddled into the breaking waves and started to surf.
On the beach, someone had planted a small American flag in the sand.
Glen Doherty, 42, was killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on an American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya alongside fellow former SEAL Tyrone Woods, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and State Department computer expert Sean Smith.
I had the privilege of meeting Glen a few months ago and, like most who met him, I was struck by how instantly likeable and open he was. We were able to keep in sporadic touch until about three weeks before his death.
When we last spoke, Glen was resting in his California home between stints working as a contractor for State Department Diplomatic Security in Libya, where he said he helped chase down dangerous weapons that had been looted during the revolution there. He was eager to get back to the action.
Weeks after his death, I was honored when, with Glen's family's approval, a mutual acquaintance invited me out to San Diego for a series of memorial events that turned out to be big parties -- celebrations of Glen's happy life on the edge. One of Glen's best friends jokingly put the spirit of the weekend into a motto: "Glen lived to better himself and recreate. Not necessarily in that order."
Glen's brother, Greg Doherty, said Glen knew his was a dangerous world and "made it clear" what should be done if he died.
"If he ever checked out early, we were to throw a big party with lots of friends and enjoy ourselves," he said. "We did."
Throughout the weekend whenever glasses raised for a toast – which happened more often than most doctors would recommend – it was obvious from those lifting their drinks that Glen occupied three worlds at once: One full of childhood and high school friends from Winchester, Mass.; one from his early 20s in Utah when he tried to become a professional skier; and one made up of the quiet professionals of the special operations community.
A small room in Glen's California home reflected all these stages of his life. On the wall were pictures of Glen on the front of skiing magazines and photos of him surfing in California or posing with his SEAL team in some faraway land. Trinkets from the Middle East – including an ornate dagger -- were strewn about and a small library of books lined the walls. Glen was a voracious reader, his friends said, but I was assured one of the books from the "Twilight" series that was in the room probably wasn't his.
From former SEALs to laid back surfers and skiers, Glen brought his usually disparate groups of friends together and over time the bond became so strong that when a notorious local statue was lovingly defaced in Glen's honor sometime Saturday, evidence immediately emerged suggesting it was the result of a joint military-civilian operation.