“Semper Fi – Marine”
This past week as political pundits in Annapolis discussed the vague nuisances and differences between a fee and a tax, the North Carroll community paid tribute to a fallen marine: Staff Sgt. James Malachowski, a 25-year-old hero who bravely died, in combat, serving our country.
Sergeant Malachowski was killed by an explosive device in the bloodiest area of Afghanistan, the Helmand Province, while liberating a village held captive by the Taliban. He was no stranger to duty as he previously served three tours of duty in Iraq. The sergeant was, beyond doubt, an experienced combat veteran.
Described by his superiors as a life-size action figure, strong, fast and brave; his fellow Marines struggled to keep up with Sergeant Malachowski’s speed and agility. He was hard fighting and yet compassionate. Just days prior to his own death he had carried a wounded Marine from harm’s way at his own peril.
Over the years I have had the privilege to meet a few Medal of Honor recipients, shake hands with men who spent grueling years as POWs, and be humbled by firsthand accounts of the perils of World War II. Sadly though, I never had the honor to meet this brave Marine. It was, however, easy to capture his essence and character from the vast outpouring of our community.
Our little town is atypical for rural America. We have a Main Street, a volunteer fire company, a carnival in the summer and everyone knows the mayor by his first name…including where he lives. Many times, over the years, I have tried to explain to my more urban friends the benefit and pride of working in and living nearby The Town of Hampstead.
Another very intimate part of small town life is honoring a fallen son.
Sunday evening, as the leather-clad Patriot Guard stood watch, a long line of mourners snaked around Eline’s Funeral Home to pay their respects; all parking spaces at and near the funeral home were filled with cars. Friends, family, local elected officials, dignitaries and Gov. Martin O’Malley took the time to pay respect to this Marine hero who was a North Carroll High School graduate, Class of 2003.
Cars were parked bumper to bumper on both sides of the street surrounding the intersection. The Hampstead Police and the North Carroll Fire Police directed traffic for many long hours both Sunday and Monday. Mayor Christopher M. Nevin and Police Chief R. Kenneth Meekins worked behind the scenes to make sure everything went seamlessly for the family.
Monday morning Main Street Hampstead was lined with flags, of all sizes; some merchants even mounted new flag cleats to just participate in the honor, while others paid respect with debts of gratitude and thanks on their business signage.
The Lions Club posted thousands of small flags, creating a flutter of red, white and blue covering the three-mile route from Hampstead to the church just outside of Manchester. Both citizens and business owners lined the sidewalks, somber and in reverence as the procession passed.
The motorcade was police vehicles, Patriot Guards on motorcycles and dozens of mourners’ vehicles. At the church there was a giant flag flying stately in the breeze. Old Glory was proudly spanned between the two massive outstretched arms of two local fire company ladder trucks.
Across the street from the church the entire student body of Manchester Valley High School stood on the hill facing the church to pay respect to Sergeant Malachowski as he was carried in by a Marine honor guard.
Grief and pride are just two emotions which tend to bring a community like ours together. Sgt. James Malachowski will be laid to his final rest, with full honors in a private ceremony, at Arlington National Cemetery in the near future.
This past week, however, all of North Carroll mourned with his family. A community outpouring like this makes me proud to live in small town America and proud to be part of the North Carroll community.
The information sign in front of the Hampstead Fire Hall summed it up best with a simple message: “Semper Fi – Marine.”
A solemn event, like this one, makes you forget about political battles, such as the semantics of taxes and fees… when a hero pays the price.