Semper Fi

by Kathy on March 9, 2012 · 23 comments

in Abby, Bereavement, Blessed, Chicago, Coping, Family, Gratitude, Grief, Inspiration, Journey, Life, Loss, Quotes, Sean, Waiting

Last week I didn’t know what that meant.

Today I do, along with many others in our Beverly neighborhood who are honoring the life and memory of Marine Corporal Conner Lowry.

Semper Fi, short for Semper Fidelis, is latin for Always Faithful.

The Marine Corps uses it as their motto and their inspiration as they serve and protect our country.

I did not know Conner Lowry.

But as a member of the community where he grew up and as a mother, my heart aches for his family and friends who are grieving his death.

Conner died last week serving our country in Afghanistan.

He graduated from one of our local Catholic High Schools, Brother Rice, in 2006.

From what I have heard Conner was a kind and faithful son, brother, friend and Marine.

He will be buried tomorrow in the same cemetery that our baby girl Molly was laid to rest four years ago this April.

Over the past few days I heard about the plans for Conner’s wake and funeral at the parish (St. John Fisher) in our neighborhood that his family is a part of. I learned that there would be a motorcade this morning from Midway Airport where his body would be arriving and then returning home from. Other community members, especially other mothers I know, encouraged those of us who were able to come and support Conner’s loved ones by standing along the route of the motorcade, holding American flags and showing them how much we care and respect the sacrifice that their son and his family made for our country.

As a bereaved parent, I know how very much it means to feel such love and support, even from strangers, as we mourn the death of our children.

Yesterday I decided that Abby and I would go to a place on the motorcade route this morning to join others in supporting and paying our respects to Conner’s family and friends. We bought some American flags at Walgreen’s to bring with us. We had been told to try to arrive by 8:45 a.m. So we left our house a little before 8:30 a.m. to make our way toward 103rd Street.

It is a beautiful and sunny, but fairly cold, day here in Chicago. So I made sure that Abby was bundled up well in her stroller and I also wore layers to try to keep warm. My plan was for us to find a spot on the route that didn’t have a lot of people already, so we could fill in one of the gaps. It took us about 15 – 20 minutes to get there.

We arrived right about 8:45 a.m. and found a spot in front of Ridge Country Club’s Golf Course on 103rd Street. For awhile there were not that many people around us, but we saw some gather in the distance in all directions and across the street from where we were.

A woman walked by soon after we got settled into our spot, while Abby ate a snack, and let us know that the motorcade was about 25 minutes away. She shared that they had stopped at Brother Rice High School for Taps to be played.

As time passed, more people started arriving and filling in more gaps along the route. Directly across the street from us two Chicago Fire Department trucks and an ambulance pulled up. The fireman proceeded to get out and put on their full firefighting uniforms as we waited for the motorcade to arrive (I wondered if this was meant to be a sign of respect, to keep warm in the cold weather today or both).

There was a family near us with two young children who did not have American flags to wave. Abby and I had picked up some extras yesterday, in case any of our friends joined us this morning. At that point I knew no one was meeting up with us, so we offered two of our flags to the kids and they seemed to appreciate getting to hold them.

I also struck up a conversation with a very nice man from our neighborhood, who was there with his wife and young daughter. He asked if I had any family members who were in the military. I told him that my father had been in the army in the late 1960’s and served in Vietnam. The man told me that his oldest child, a son, had served two tours in Iraq. He talked about how blessed and lucky he feels that his son made it home safely and how his heart goes out to the Lowry family.

The man also asked me if I had to take the day off work to be there today. I told him I was a Stay at Home Mom and that I appreciate how my job allows me the flexibility to be able to take my children to experience things like this is. He let me know how much he respects Stay at Home Parents for what we do and that he believes it is every bit as hard and as important work as those who serve in the professional world. I agreed.

I shared with the man I spoke with today that I have an eight year old son who was in school, otherwise he would have been with us there too. I had heard a rumor that my son’s school might get to join us on the route to pay their respects to the Lowry family. However, Sean let me know after school, that they did not get to go after all. He thought it was in part because the Chicago Public Schools are doing ISAT testing right now, which made sense. Though I was sorry that he missed being able to experience the motorcade with Abby and me. Knowing our son, I think he would have been very moved had he gotten to see what we did today.

Getting back to the motorcade, we could tell when it was getting closer, as there were helicopters flying around, from the local news stations who were covering the procession, that were now directly above us.

First we saw headlights in the distance, lots of them moving slowly in our direction. As the initial state and local police cars passed us, that were leading the motorcade, the highest ranking Chicago fire fighter present called the rest of the men to attention. There was a class from a local school standing near us at this point and their teacher told them to stand up straight, put their right hands on their hearts and hold out their flags with their left hands.

I told Abby that the motorcade we had been waiting for had arrived and that it was time to watch and wave our flags for Conner’s family. She was very cold and getting fussy, as we had been there almost an hour by that time. So I was trying to move Abby’s stroller back and forth to calm her down while also trying to take it all in and show those in the procession that I was sorry for their loss and proud of their son, brother, friend and fellow soldier.

First came the hearse that was carrying Conner’s body in his casket.

That was followed by at least four or five limousines escorting Conner’s family and many more cars filled with loved ones behind them.

That is when it really hit me what I was witnessing.

Many of Conner’s family members had rolled the windows down in the cars they were riding in. They were waving to the people in the crowd, making eye contact with us and showing us how moved and how much they seemed to appreciate us being their to support them on their journey today.

Those moments are some that I don’t think I will ever forget, as long as I live. It was an incredible and heartbreaking experience to be a part of.

Connor’s family and other loved ones in the motorcade were followed closely by Patriot Guard Riders. I have heard about them before, but never witnessed what they do in person. It was also very moving for me to see. There must have been close to 100 motorcycles that drove by in honor and memory of Conner. This was Abby’s favorite part of the day, as she is fascinated by motorcycles and was amazed to watch so many of them pass in front of us. After the motorcycles came other Patriot Guard, military and local police department vehicles.

And then it was over.

Abby and I walked home from there and talked about our experience. She wanted to know where all the motorcycles had come from and when/if we could see them again.

We decided to stop at a local bakery on our way home to warm up. We each got a doughnut and relaxed for awhile there as we ate them. We saw some people we know from our neighborhood, who had also been along the route of the motorcade. I appreciated being able to talk with other adults about our experience this morning. I said something about how I had never witnessed anything like that in person and our friends echoed my sentiments. One of them also pointed out that she hopes we never have reason to do so again.

It was an honor for me to be able to help our Beverly neighborhood welcome our native son home from the war and help his family and other loved ones prepare to say goodbye at his wake today and his funeral tomorrow.

I will leave you with a quote that I read on the side of the Patriot Guard vehicles that were in the motorcade. It encompasses for me what it meant to be a part of this experience today:

Standing For Those Who Stood For Us

Yes, exactly.

That is what we did today.

It is what we do for those who serve our country and sacrifice their lives to protect us and our freedom.

Rest in Peace Marine Corporal Conner Lowry.

Semper Fi.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Beth Walsh March 9, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Beautifully written Kathy. I was there also in front of Brother Rice. You were able to put the words down that most of us were feeling today and all week.
Thank you.

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2 Kathy March 13, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Thank you Beth. I appreciate your kind words and am glad that you also got to experience this. It makes me so proud to be a part of this neighborhood/community.
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3 Beth Lavin March 9, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Thank you for your beautiful article. R.I.P. Conner

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4 Kathy March 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm

You are so very welcome Beth.
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5 JustHeather March 10, 2012 at 8:27 am

Beautifully written.
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6 Kathy March 13, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Thank you Heather.
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7 Pete March 10, 2012 at 9:12 am

R.I.P Brother SEMPER FI.

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8 Kathy March 13, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Thank you for your comment Pete. Semper Fi.
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9 Kevin March 10, 2012 at 9:59 am

Thank you Kathy. I forwarded your letter to my parents in Florida who are also Beverly residents and attend St. John Fisher. I am also sorry for your loss.
R.I.P. Conner.

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10 Kathy March 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm

You are welcome Kevin. I am glad that you were able to share what I wrote with your parents in FL. I appreciate your kind words.
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11 enr March 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm

You must have been standing 10 feet from me! For the record, my young son counted 92 motorcycles in the patriot guard. Truly awe-inspiring. I would also offer how well behaved the kids from SJF were, standing in line in the chilly weather for nearly an hour. They chatted quietly and respectfully during the wait, with no jostling or disruption. These kids were of an age where that is a tough and noteworthy achievement. We all try to raise our kids to recognize those moments where behavior really matters, and then rise up to it. I just pray our neighboring parish will never be so tested, and that what we saw yesterday will be on once-in-a-lifetime memory. SJF parents – you’ve done good.

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12 Kathy March 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Thank you for your comment. That is nice to know we were standing so close and had similar vantage points that day. It is also awesome that your son counted that many motorcycles, I will have to update my post to reflect the true number who were there to pay tribute to Conner. Thanks for sharing that. I agree the entire experience was awe inspiring, Thank you for highlighting how well behaved the kids in the crowd were, especially those representing our local schools. As the mother of an 8 year old and an 2 year old, I know standing and waiting that long is not easy for children. I am also very proud of the kids who rose the occasion on Friday. I too hope that our community will not have another opportunity to witness something like this again. Kudos to the SJF parents and all those in our neighborhood who are raising their children to act so respectfully in these moments and every day.
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13 Lavin March 11, 2012 at 8:55 am

On behalf of Conner’s family, thank you from the bottom of our hearts for being there to welcome Conner home. Your support means the world to us.

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14 Kathy March 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Thank you for reading this and taking time to comment. You are so very welcome. I really appreciate your kind words and am so sorry for your loss.
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15 loribeth March 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm

What a lovely thing to do, Kathy. I’m sure the family was so grateful.

You may have heard of our “Highway of Heroes” here in Canada. This video explains:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1R8qLAmkLU

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16 Kathy March 13, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Thank you Loribeth. From what I understand, including the comment from one of Conner’s family members just above yours, his family really appreciates the support they have received from the time they first learned of Conner’s death and throughout this past week as they have celebrated his life and laid him to rest.

Thank you also for sharing about your “Highway of Heroes” in Canada. I had not heard of that before and was very moved by watching that video, especially the interview with the bereaved mother who spoke about how much it meant to her to see those people on the bridges as they escorted her son’s body from the airport to the morgue.
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17 EMMETT WHEALAN April 12, 2012 at 11:27 am

THANK YOU FOR REMINDING ME WHY OUR NEIGHBORHOOD IS SO SPECIAL.

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18 Kathy April 13, 2012 at 10:26 pm

You are welcome Emmett and I agree, our neighborhood is very special.
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19 Ellen April 12, 2012 at 2:48 pm

One of the Lowry family has just posted this on Facebook. They commented to me after funeral one of most moving things was people lining street All of your support is very much appreciated.

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20 Kathy April 13, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Thank you Ellen. I really appreciate you sharing that. It warms my heart to know how much it meant to them.
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21 Mud Hut Mama January 24, 2013 at 8:03 am

Really beautiful post Kathy. I’m so sorry for Conner’s family and for your community. What a tragic loss.
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22 Kathy March 1, 2013 at 7:12 am

Thank you Jody.
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