On 3 October 2001, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces held a memorial proceeding for the victims of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
One of the victims, Mari-Rae Sopper, was a friend of many of us at CAAFlog from her time at the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Defense Division. During CAAF’s memorial proceeding, Hardy Vieux spoke about Mari-Rae. Rereading what he said caused me to both smile and grieve. Here are Hardy’s very apt words:
“You are born and oh how you wail. Your first breath is a scream, not timid or low but selfish and shattering with all the force of waiting nine months under water. The rest of your life should be like that — an announcement.”
Good morning, Chief Judge Crawford, Judges of this Honorable Court. That quotation I just recited to you encapsulates the life of Lieutenant Mari-Rae Sopper. Her life was always an announcement.
Her enthusiasm was her chosen means of announcement. To know Mari-Rae was to know her enthusiasm and her insatiable spirit. She was in every sense of the word an advocate. First, as a trial counsel and then later as an appellate defense counsel, Mari-Rae, like so many others that preceded her, fought to ensure that the military justice system in which we operate produced fair and just results. Whether it was challenging the constitutionality of non-unanimous jury verdicts or concerning herself with the intricacies of the post-trial process, Mari-Rae would not yield in her attempts to advance her cause as well as that of her clients. She gave expression to their anguish, eloquence to their plight, dignity to their circumstances, and consideration to their contentions.
Time and again she announced that she stood for equality and would not tolerate those who sought to denigrate others on grounds of gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. She understood that the test of our time was being able to move from equality in the abstract to equality in significant results. From lively office exchanges to participation in community activities, Mari-Rae continually reminded us that silence is acquiescence, and she could not and would not remain silent.
She upheld the high standards of service. Her commitment to the integrity of our justice system will long be remembered by all those whose lives she touched. But Mari-Rae was more than just our colleague; she was more than just a naval officer. For many of us she was a friend, for some of us she was a teacher. By example, she taught us that compassion and humility were the ways to go and in her doggedness one could sense a determination to prove wrong all those that underestimated her Herculean heart and small frame. For that was the only thing small about Mari-Rae. Her ideas were big, her aspirations were even bigger and her sense of loyalty was boundless. With her striking hair, green eyes, and unmistakable voice, Mari-Rae set about leaving her imprints on the world.
The law was her vocation, her avocation, and her true passion was gymnastics. As a former college gymnast and a coach, Mari-Rae could express her individuality in her routines while contributing to the efforts of her team.
Although today we meet because of the death of our friend, our thoughts are not on her death but on her life and on the example and guidance and profit we get from introspection about the effervescent life. And although the national tragedy of September 11th took her from us at a mere 35 years old, she lived a full life. I have but faith, for I cannot know where she may be, but I do know that wherever she is, she has announced herself.