Thirteen years ago, Petty Officer 1st Class Joseph Adam McSween lost his life.
It was April 6, 2007 – and McSween (who went by Adam) was conducting combat operations near Kirkuk, Iraq. During an enemy attack, the 26-year-old was killed.
The former York College student had requested that if he were to die, his remains be buried in York’s Greenwood Cemetery although it wasn’t technically his home town.
He said York was home because this is where he met the love of his life – his wife, Erin.
The York community gathered around Erin, his daughters, his mother Florence. The York community became his family – those who had already been his friends and total strangers who grieved the loss of yet another serviceman.
Do you remember the hundreds of flags lining the streets and the thousands of people who gathered to honor the fallen soldier at the city auditorium?
Do you remember the somber parade of vehicles following the hearse down Highway 34 from the airport into town, with dozens of people standing alongside the road?
Do you remember the roar of the motorcycles as the Patriot Guard led the funeral procession? Do you remember standing next to your neighbor, with tears in your eyes as you grieved someone you may not have known but greatly admired?
As we left the cemetery that day, I looked back at the place where his casket would remain. I realized that Adam’s family lived far away, in different states. As strange as it sounds, I wondered if anyone here would remember to decorate his grave on Memorial Day.
That day, I made a decision, a promise, that if I could, I would visit that spot every year in late May – to drop off a flower or maybe a flag. Just a little something, so that all who saw his grave would remember that he was a hero.
So on a Memorial Day weekend not so long ago, I grabbed my little arrangement and ran out to Greenwood Cemetery. As I wound around to the western side of the property, I strained to see Adam’s grave . . . hoping that I’d see what I’d seen many Memorial Days before.
And I did.
“Oh, good,” I sighed. “They remembered. Again.”
There was Adam’s grave, carefully decorated with flags, ribbons and flowers. Again, people had been there . . . remembering Adam whether they knew him in life or not.
The breeze blew lightly, rustling the vine on the little lamppost by the head stone . . . and I smiled because somebody (and quite a few somebodies as I’ve seen over the years) made sure to take a moment to remember one of York’s fallen soldiers.
I didn’t know Adam when he was alive – but in my mind, he’s become my personal persona of our military men and women. By honoring him – I feel we honor them all.
As I drove out of the cemetery, I marveled at how many graves were decorated with flags and metal declaring the burial sites of veterans. So many . . . so many who have given so much.
So thank you, to the people who continue to decorate Adam’s grave and the graves of thousands more.
Thank you for not forgetting.
I’m so glad you still remember.