In 1998, I found myself in a High School wrestling match with an absolute beast. He was heavily muscled, disciplined, and carried a shamrock clover tattoo on his shoulder. I was also in good physical condition, disciplined, and carried a shamrock tattoo on my shoulder as well. The crowd called our match appropriately, “The Battle of the Shamrock’s”. My opponent’s name was Kevin Dempsey, but his friends called him…”Jack”.
Kevin “Jack” Dempsey attended New Canaan High School, in Connecticut, where he was a football and wrestling star. He adopted the nickname “Jack”, as he often displayed the same toughness as the legendary boxer, Jack Dempsey. He was known as a protector growing up, defending those unable, or unwilling to defend themselves. Many believe this admirable protective instinct was due to Kevin losing his father at a young age. Dealing with this loss, Kevin channeled this pain positively, and developed a focused, disciplined personality. It seemed only natural that after High School graduation, Dempsey joined the United States Marine Corps.
By 2004, Kevin now 23, was serving in the elite 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C, where he received orders that he would be deploying to Anbar Providence, Iraq. On November 13, 2004, Dempsey had been the team leader of a Marine foot patrol, when the troops discovered an IED. Dempsey took charge of clearing Marines from the scene. He saved at least seven of his comrades before an enemy detonated the bomb via cell phone, killing Dempsey and another Marine.
I recall reading the Danbury News Times the morning that the news of Kevin’s death reached the States. I looked at his picture in the newspaper, he looked like the same Kevin I remembered, sharp jaw line and focused gaze. He was no longer wearing a wrestling singlet however, he was photographed in an impeccable Marine uniform. He looked proud, and I was proud of him.
I received this news at a pivotal time in my life. I was a senior in college at Southern Connecticut State University, but much like Dempsey, after the events on 9/11, I also decided that I would enlist in the military and serve my country. I cut out Kevin’s death announcement from the papers and hung it on my fridge, where it served as a constant source of inspiration as my own military journey began. The day after I graduated college, I immediately went to my local recruiting station. I arrived at MEP/s (Military Entry Processing Station), where I would receive a head to toe examination to make sure I was physically qualified to enter the military. All was going well until I received the unexpected news that I was disqualified due to the failing of a color vision test. I was 23 at the time, and never had any issues with color before this. I was brought into a small office and was told I was unable to join. I returned home, confused and unsure of my future. I moped around the house, and eventually went to grab a drink from the refrigerator. I saw Kevin Dempsey’s eye’s look at me from the photo hanging the refrigerator door. I heard two words in my head…”Don’t Quit”.
For over six years of my life, I fought tooth and nail to get into the military. This wasn’t just a dream, but a calling. I failed over 20 more color vision tests, invested hundreds of hours into color vision research, and even bought a color vision testing machine to practice on, only to be turned away again and again. There were many days during this journey that I questioned whether I was chasing a pipe dream, was it all just a waste of time? I heard a voice in the back of my head “don’t quit”. Where there’s a will, there’s a waiver, and in SEP2010, I proudly arrived at Great Lakes Illinois, home of Navy Bootcamp. How’d I get in? That’s a story for another day, but it always came back to those two words.
During military training, there were often times that I was pushed to my physical and mental limits. I had difficulty during training with both physical injuries, as well issues processing information fast enough to progress, “Don’t Quit”. Upon returning from Afghanistan in 2013, I visited home for the holidays only to discover my brother Ryan’s body shortly after he had passed away, I heard Kevin’s voice as well as my brothers Ryan’s now, “don’t quit”.
My brother Ryan left a legacy of treating others with respect. You didn’t have to prove yourself to him, he treated you kindly from the second he met you, no matter if you were a successful millionaire, or a homeless individual he happen to be serving food to at the Dorothy Day Homeless Shelter. Another characteristic about my brother was that he loved doing random acts of kindness…leaving big tips, buying a stranger a coffee, or helping a friend move out of their apartment was common for my brother.
Ryan left my family the greatest gift that you can through death, he left us inspiration. Inspired by his legacy, we were determined to develop a new way for our lost loved ones to be remembered, and it is called Make a Wave. Make a Wave is a social media platform that is meant to connect us in the oldest way possible, through kindness. This is done by passing dedicated “Wave’s” from one person to another through acts of kindness. A wave can take many forms, it may be a coin, a Livestrong style wristband, dog tags, or a simple card. Regardless of it’s form, a Wave can be passed through a simple pay it forward at a local coffee shop, or maybe anonymously left with an inspiring note on a co-worker’s desk. It can be simple, it can be elaborate, but no matter how big or small, it’s always meant to put a smile on someone’s face and make the world a better place. After reading the instructions on the back of the coin, one is lead to MakeaWave.com, where they are asked to enter the serial number on the back of the specific Make a Wave coin they were given.
(insert pic of back of coin).
After entering the number, they learn what message that specific coin carries, it may raise awareness to a cause, be part of a kindness classroom lesson, or it may remember a lost Hero. In the military, you often here the words “Never Forgotten”, it’s our goal to make sure that our lost loved ones are truly Never Forgotten.
On a beautiful sunny day in San Diego, I found myself at a military/veteran networking event called CLEVR Talks. The keynote speaker was none other than Marc Cuban, and his focus was to spread the valuable business knowledge he has gained throughout his life to veterans, to help them succeed after the military. I thought it was pretty amazing of him to give back to the community that has defended this country proudly, and some like Kevin “Jack” Dempsey, gave their lives for.
As Mr. Cuban was speaking to the inspired veterans, the floor was opened up for questions. Something drew me to stand up, and I quickly realized that I had absolutely no question to ask. I kept standing anyways, and waited patiently to be called on, trying to think of a beneficial question to myself and the audience, but was drawing nothing but blanks. I reached into my pocket and realized I had was carrying a lucky charm, a Make a Wave coin, carrying the message of United States Marine Kevin “Jack” Dempsey.
Moments later it was announced that the next question would be the last of the day…I was surprisingly given the mic to ask my question. I briefly shared with Mr. Cuban the story of my brother and Hero Ryan Kirk, and told him of the inspiration and gift he left us that is now Make a Wave. I then asked the crowd to please rise, and to a standing ovation of over a few thousand proud veterans, I was able to present Mr. Cuban with the coin representing another Hero of mine, United States Marine Kevin “Jack” Dempsey. With great pride I gave Mr. Cuban the coin, and thanked him for his time giving back to a community to which I’m honored to be apart of. I look forward to seeing the wave of positive impact Mr. Cuban continues.
A Hero comes in all shapes, sizes, genders, and religions, but they all leave us with one gift after their death, they leave us with inspiration. If we take this inspiration and adapt it into our own lives, then in a way, a Hero never dies as they continue to live through all of us.
Do you know a Hero that you would like to tell us about? Please submit your story to firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Navy SEAL and CEO of The Make a Wave Foundation