When Levi J. Shirley was growing up, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the U.S. military, his mother said. His father, Russell, had served three tours with the Army in Vietnam, and Levi became “obsessed” with joining the Marine Corps.
The younger Shirley had bad eyesight, however. He trained with other potential recruits, but was disqualified even after having surgery, said his mother, Susan.
Instead, Shirley last year joined with other Westerners in traveling to the Middle East to fight Islamic State militants in Syria with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). He returned to the United States months later and vowed never to go back, but vanished with little notice again in January and resurfaced in Syria, his mother said.
On Thursday, the YPG announced that Shirley, just short of his 25th birthday, was killed July 14 in a battle with the Islamic State. His mother confirmed his death, but said she knew little beyond what the YPG announced.
“He’s not usually what you would first think of as a fighter,” 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.”
What motivated Shirley remains something of a mystery. A Brit who uses the pseudonym Macer Gifford said he befriended Shirley in the YPG last year and was struck by his love for the Marine Corps and knowledge of American military history. Shirley, he said, often talked about how he had served two years in the Marines before he was hit by a car and discharged.
Read the Remainder at Washington Post