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The Ultimate Price
Rick Reilly
October 02, 1995
It took his brother's death in combat to help fulfill Shaun Stephenson dream of playing football for Navy
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October 02, 1995

The Ultimate Price

It took his brother's death in combat to help fulfill Shaun Stephenson dream of playing football for Navy

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Looked like flying and football were also gone. If Shaun could not go back and fight and make them notice him, how would he ever play football for Navy? But then the phone rang.

President Bush was calling to say how sorry he was that Dion had died in friendly fire, and how proud he was of Dion and what he'd done for the country. "He was the best," Bush said in a trembling voice. "A good marine."

The Warrior had one thing to say. There was already talk about this friendly fire business. The parents of the victims were beginning a lawsuit against the maker of the Maverick, and the Warrior would have none of it. "Sir, you did the right thing by getting into this," he told Bush.

Through that week the Warrior told the papers, "Friendly fire is a part of combat," and, "If that pilot came to our door right now, we'd invite him in.... My son's gone, but this pilot has to get up every day and say, 'My missile killed these men.' That's a heckuva thing to have to live with." And when the mini-cams were gone and the lights were finally off and his family asleep, the Warrior would bury his face in his pillow and cry.

A few days later General Gray called and asked Shaun what his plans were. Shaun gulped a little and said, "Well, I've always wanted to attend the Naval Academy."

Gray said he would look into that, too.

Within two weeks there came a letter from the U.S. Naval Academy announcing that Shaun Stephenson had won an appointment by order of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), Rep. Jim Hansen (R., Utah) and the' President of the United States.

It's all you can do to keep from throwing a punch when you are a 22-year-old Force Recon marine with five citations for meritorious service and one lost brother, and some 19-year-old midshipman in a bad haircut screams at you about discipline.

It was all Shaun could do to keep from laughing when those officious upper-class detailers came bursting in for that first inspection, ready to start barking and pencil-ticking and pulling down shirts that weren't hung right (top button buttoned, facing the same direction, colors together), and they found...nothing. The room was flawless, every shoe was a mirror, every corner perfect. You grow up a Stephenson, plebe year is basically Moose Lodge initiation night.

Inspections weren't Shaun's problem at the Naval Academy. Grades were the problem. He needed a year at the Naval Academy Prep School just to make it to plebe year. Didn't matter if the President or the Pope got you your appointment, if you didn't have the grades, you were gone. "People think my road was all laid down by the President," Shaun says. "If I get my diploma—when I get it—I'll have had to work twice as hard as everybody else."

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