August 13, 2020 – “Fratris Quietos” or in English, “Rest in Peace, Brother” comes to mind occasionally when I think about my late cousin, Wesley Joseph Urso. He was like a brother to me. I lived with him when I was very young, only about 3 years old, so my memories from that time are slim. I have one memory of riding on the handlebars of his bike, looking up into the sun, with the wind blowing in my hair and the sound of the bike bell dinging as we rode up the street. My older sister Caroline would be on her bike, and I would climb onto Wesley’s bike and sit on the front of the handlebars and the three of us would ride around his neighborhood. I have another memory of the big bath tub his mother had in her room, that felt like a Jacuzzi that we would all play in, with our swimsuits on. I remember jumping up and down on his bed while listening to Gloria Estefan, which he said sounded like “some Spanish lady screaming something.”
Shortly after that, we moved several hours away from the Orlando area to West Palm Beach, so I did not get to see him much anymore. Years later, when I was in the 5th grade, I got a call from him on the landline (yes, we had those still back then, and I had a blue car phone with a long curly cord) and hearing a much deeper voice say into the phone “I’m going to basic training!” He had been accepted into the Marine Corps, after emancipating himself legally at age 17 to join. This was his dream.
He had always looked up to our grandfather Quincey, who served in World War II. As children, we grew up with a big Italian family. My father is one of 7 children, and his father was one of 10 children. My grandfather’s brother January had also served in the war, although he was not a sergeant like my grandfather. We liked to call him Pap.
We all grew up listening to Pap’s war stories, which I am sure were greatly embellished. Like the story about him fighting a giant tiger while in a small boat. Of course he was the victor of that battle. He told us the story of how he got into a fight and broke his nose and was placed in the infirmary where he met our grandmother Nunny (as we called her). She was the nurse who cared for him and nursed him back to health. As Pap would tell us, “if it wasn’t for the War, I never would have met your grandmother.”
Pap had us watch war films, and he instilled in all his grandchildren not just a sense of great Patriotism and love of country, but also a love for adventure and fun. I believe it was this influence that led Wesley to have such a deep desire to serve his country and I think he also inherited Pap’s sense of humor. I have heard and read several stories written in Memory of Wesley by his brother Marines. They all remembered him for his perpetual optimism, big smile and his ability to get people to laugh, even in the hardest of circumstances.
He was with us on this earth only 27 years, but the impact he made on those around him still lives. From the Florida band named after him, Ursa Major, to the friends and fellow brothers-in-arms who made it back from Hell (as Wes called the Middle East) alive, his memory strongly survives.
It has been over 10 years since his passing and for some of his brothers, that loss is still fresh. For his brother Brad, and the close friends he left behind, like Rhett, I know it is, as it is for me.
I heard that he got his nickname “FREAK” from some friends he trained with at 29 Palms. I was so young when he left for his first tour of duty, and I remember visiting him when he came home and being struck by how much he had changed.
He had trouble sleeping at night, and I now believe he was showing signs of PTSD. I do not know if he was being treated for this, but he told me at one point he knew how to kill people with his bare hands in 50 different ways. He was drinking a lot and would have friends over for music and parties and it seemed to me that he felt he did not fit in anywhere. A girl he had been seeing had moved on while he was overseas and some friends had also changed. For him, it was like coming home and finding some of your friend had moved on without you.
After coming home and feeling like he didn’t fit in there, I think he decided to go into private contracting. I remember hearing from my aunt that he was going to Israel and then Lebanon.
He passed away in Beirut, Lebanon June 3, 2007. I was 17 when he passed and I did not take it well. Much of that time is a blur for me. My best friend Stephanie drove me the four hours to get there and held my hand all the way to the casket. I remember touching his face, and it was like ice. It was extremely traumatic for me. I remember looking over and seeing five big Marines all breaking down, sobbing like children. It was one of the most tragic things I have seen in my life. The look on their faces, and the sounds they made broke my heart. I remember one of them coming up to me and telling me “your cousin was a hero.” The whole thing felt unreal, and I got out of there as fast as I could.
From an obituary in the Orlando Sentinel, entitled “Wesley Urso, 27, Discovered a Way to Serve His Country, See the World“:
When Wesley Joseph Urso returned home to St. Cloud in March, he took out a map of the Middle East to show his family the exotic places he was visiting as part of his job.
During the past three years, his position with a security firm took him to many countries, including Israel, Iraq, Pakistan and Lebanon.
Urso was in Beirut, Lebanon, when his family received word from his employer that he had died in his sleep June 3 of natural causes. He was 27.
‘He lived such an interesting life,’ said his brother, Brad Urso of Orlando. ‘He also lived life at 100 miles an hour.’
Wesley Urso was born in Orlando and grew up in St. Cloud. He enjoyed typical Florida activities — scuba diving, snorkeling, jet-skiing and going to the beach.
He also played team sports and was a member of the St. Cloud High School football and basketball teams.
After graduation in 1998, Urso worked as a waiter at Darryl’s Restaurant in Kissimmee and at Orlando Ale House before making a major career change. He joined the Marines.
‘He just really loved his country,’ his brother said. ‘And he wanted to help protect it.’
As a Marine, Urso was a sergeant and scout sniper, a position considered to be the ‘cream of the crop,’ his brother said.
He was discharged in 2001 and returned to St. Cloud to help care for his ailing parents and to attend Valencia Community College.
In 2003, Urso took his first job in security and soon was rubbing elbows with high-level dignitaries. His photo collection included shots with U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Urso’s employer, MVM Inc., sent his family a letter, hailing him as a ‘hero in the war on terrorism,’ Brad Urso said, adding that his brother had received many commendations, including one for saving the life of a client when their convoy was attacked by militants.
‘It was exciting, but he also realized there was an element of danger, and he took that very seriously,’ Brad Urso said. ‘His friends told him this was a way to serve his country without being in the armed forces, and that was perfect for him.’
Wesley Urso also is survived by his parents, Quincy and Susan Urso of St. Cloud; and grandmother Annabelle Urso of Pittsburgh. – Orlando Sentinel
There was a time when I was in 7th or 8th grade, when he was pictured behind George W. Bush on the front cover of a newspaper, because he was part of a protective detail. He had such big ears and was so tall, you could see him poking out from behind him. I was so proud, I wrote some school paper about him, saying I wanted to be just like him one day.
He was one of the few family members that I felt close to, who was like a sibling to me. I still think about him all the time, and what his life would be like now, if he were still with us. Would he have children? Would they look just like him? When our leaders think about our foreign policy decisions, are they thinking people like my cousin?
Donec iterum conveniant dies unus.
Some of the pictures and messages from his friends:
It was very nice being able to read these messages, and see that even many years after his death, his friends have not forgotten him.
Gone but not forgotten.
RIP to Wes Urso we will never forget you http://t.co/ucHB2XyV
— Spencer Williams (@SpenceAccount) May 28, 2012
I dedicate this song to Mr Wes Urso. I bought this before he was killed in Beirut. Will forever remind me of Wes because he wanted to come home – https://t.co/xQnAaCh7H7
— Nola McGhee (@sailmcghee) December 30, 2018
He wanted to come home, and now he is home with his Father in heaven. Until we meet again.