Oct. 17, 2012 — -- 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.
'At Least We've Got Each Other'
Glen's ashes were poured in the water some 20 miles from Coronado, home of the Navy's famed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training grounds. It was there in the mid-1990s that Glen suffered through the hardships that prepared him and every other SEAL for dangerous missions in foreign lands and where he earned the right to wear the coveted SEAL Trident.
Sean Lake, a former professional snowboarder and Glen's best friend from Utah, told me that he was the first person Glen told when he had decided to become a SEAL. Glen's career as a professional skier wasn't taking off like he was hoping and he had met some SEALs on a recent trip who inspired him. A few months later, Sean dropped Glen off at the recruiting station. Glen was 25 years old then, a relatively late start to a career in special operations.
"But then he just did it," Sean said. "That's just the guy he was. He said he was going to do something, so he did it."
Glen's military records show he spent more than eight years in the Navy and left as a decorated SEAL combat medic.
Some of Glen's former SEAL friends, generally men of few words, said over the weekend how much they enjoyed serving with Glen and that he was a solid, brave special operations warrior. Glen literally helped write the book on modern sniping, and the coauthor for that book and another best friend, ex-SEAL Brandon Webb, said Glen's casual form of courage endured whenever Glen was out of uniform.
Speaking before friends Saturday night, Brandon recounted the time he was flying recreationally with Glen as his co-pilot when the plane began to seriously malfunction. Watching system after system fail while they were in the air, Brandon told Glen "We've got no communications. We've got no visibility."
Glen calmly said "Check" each time and then, after a moment of silence, looked over at Brandon with a smirk.
"At least we've got each other," he said.
Glen and Brandon managed to land the plane safely.
You may notice that I've used the term "best friend" three times already. "Elf" Ellefsen, another of Glen's best friends from Utah, said he noticed that happening Glen's whole life.
"Glen was everyone's best friend!" he said Saturday. "How do you even do that? How does everyone consider Glen their best friend? I guess he was."
Honoring the Fallen
Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed defending Americans at a U.S. government annex after the initial attack on the main diplomatic building in Benghazi, according to U.S. officials. Their efforts helped a majority of the American mission escape with their lives.
Woods, an Oregon native, had welcomed a new son into the world just a few months earlier.
Sean Smith, the computer specialist, was killed in the first assault. An avid online gamer, Sean's death was mourned by hundreds in the virtual world as well as the real world.
Ambassador Christopher Stevens was pulled from the wreckage of the first attack by a responding Libyan brigade and rushed to the hospital, but there he succumbed to his injuries. After the attack, thousands of Libyans took to the streets to protest the brutality, saying that Ambassador Stevens was a friend to all Libyans.
Glen's friends and family recently set up the Glen Doherty Memorial Foundation and on the website's front page they posted what they believed to be Glen's words to live by.
"He believed life should be earned by hard work and hard play," it says. "Celebrate this beautiful world that we live in, recreate as much as humanly possible. Help others, and surround yourself with people that you respect, who challenge you and make you a better person."
Elf said he began writing the eulogy he gave for his friend on Saturday four years ago because he knew "this day was sure to come." Elf was determined to start a bar and make Glen run it so that he could stay safe serving drinks, rather than running dangerous operations abroad.
Glen wouldn't have it, but Elf still plans to open the bar. He'll call it Doherty's.