Growing up, all Levi Jonathan Shirley wanted to be was a Marine. It was no surprise that he had the passion to serve his country, it was in his blood. His father served three tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army. Levi dreamed of joining the Marine Corps, but because of bad eyesight, his dream never came to fruition. He had eye surgery and was disqualified from serving. However, that did not stop the extremely dedicated Levi.
In February 2015, Levi traveled to Syria to join the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to fight against the evil treachery of ISIS.
“They’re my definition of pure evil,” Levi said in a video. “I don’t think good people in a society can stick other people inside of a cage and set them on fire, so — yeah, I came here to stop that.”
“He’s not usually what you would first think of as a fighter,” Levi’s mom Susan Shirley said. “He’s not someone who would strike out an offensive on someone. But he also has a strong sense of justice and sticking up for the underdog, and the Kurds are about as underdog as you can get right now.”
He fought Daesh alongside the Kurds for about four months before returning to his family’s home in suburban Denver. However, like many people in intense combat situations he suffered PTSD and had a difficult time readjusting to regular life.
“When people are in combat, it’s really hard to rejoin 20-something society,” she said.
Then in January, Levi returned to Syria to battle ISIL.
“Long before he got involved, there were other families all over the Middle East and Europe who were going through this, you know, losing their sons and daughters and people that they loved,” said Levi’s sister Kate. “And my brother didn’t want anybody else to have to go through that.”
Once he was back in the Middle East, he was sent to Manbij, where Kurdish fighters engaged in brutal street combat against the Islamic State.
A British man who went by the pseudonym Macer Gifford befriended Agir (Levi’s Kurdish nickname) and told of his bravery:
“His unit had come under a brutal and sustained night attack by ISIS fighters. Agir and his comrades had the higher ground so after a long night 12 ISIS lay dead and only one Kurdish fighter was slightly wounded. It was a brutal introduction to the International Volunteers in Syria but it was exactly what Agir wanted. He came to fight and participate in the destruction of one of the most vicious ideologies of hate this world has ever seen.”
During a battle with ISIS on July 14, U.S.-backed coalition forces were attempting to recapture a city from the clutches of ISIS. Levi was killed. Just shy of his 25th birthday.
On Thursday, Levi’s mother received notification from the YPG that their son had been killed.
“It’s about as bad as you might think,” Susan Shirley said. “It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.”
The State Department said it was aware of reports that an American was killed in Syria, but it did not provide any more information.
Susan said she’s not mad at her son for putting himself in grave danger.
“Well, I’m not angry at him and I don’t think I ever will be angry at him ’cause we all have a calling … and I think that’s one of the keys of being happy as a person — you have to go after what you feel is important to you.”
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units dedicated a Facebook post to Levi where it was said that he was respected for his “discipline and sense of responsibility.”
“His style and personality were a source of strength, motivation, and morale for his friends. In the fight, Hevale Agir was known and respected as a brave and altruistic person,” YPG said.
“The sacrifice of our comrade Agir has enriched the democratic revolution being fought,” the YPG stated. “His name has been written in the history of our brotherhood.”
The Kurdish fighters gave Levi the nickname “Heval Agir Servan — Heval,” which means “friend” in Kurdish.
The world would be a much better place if we all had a friend like Levi Shirley.