It seemed an unlikely place for a convergence of coincidental Colby connections, but that’s what happened on Fourth Floor East, at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, AKA “the Wounded Warriors Floor.”
As described in the feature story, “The Road From Marja” this unit at the Bethesda, Md., hospital is where the most critically wounded U.S. combat personnel are treated. Last August Captain Erik Quist ’99, USMC, arrived there after being severely wounded in Afghanistan. His room was packed with medical equipment and festooned with a Marine Corps flag. A Colby banner was hung at some point—but only after Colby connections surfaced.
There was Nancy Nasse, who helps Fourth Floor East patients and families cope with the overwhelming logistics for the wounded and their families. Nasse was chatting with Quist’s wife, Liz Czernicki Quist ’98, when Liz Quist mentioned going to college in Maine. “What school?” Nasse recalled asking. Turns out her husband, David Nasse ’99, is a lawyer and a Marine Corps major. “He’s in Kabul right now,” she said.
Joining the Colby circle was John Maddox ’99, a U.S. Navy surgeon who met Quist early in his stay. Maddox came into the hospital room, saw Liz Quist and said, “Didn’t you go to Colby?”
One year they lived in the same dorm, Foss Hall.
We chatted about this in the hospital corridor while one of the many medical teams tended to Quist in his room. It was one of those “small world” conversations—connections worth noting as a diversion from the plight of the patients all around us.
I bring it up here for that reason and for another. The military isn’t a typical Colby career track. When, in 2010, we set out to do a story on Colbians on active duty in the armed forces, they turned up only in the dozens, a very small minority in the alumni body of 25,000. (Sixty years ago, this was not the case.)
For that reason this story about the selfless service and continuing travails of a wounded Marine in Colby is unusual. Given Quist’s ordeal, that’s a good thing. But I ask you to read it and consider Erik Quist’s sense of duty and his courage and that of his wife, Liz. Then multiply it by thousands.
This war has been fought largely out of sight but too often out of mind, as well. The all-volunteer military has allowed us the luxury of wars fought by someone else, someone who most likely comes from a background that doesn’t include a Colby degree.
Quist didn’t leap at the chance to tell his story. But in the end he decided he should allow the Colby community to share his experience, not because it is extraordinary, but because it is not.
Gerry Boyle ’78, P’06