The more Gloria Crothers says her son’s name, Marine Sgt. Michael Heede, the more it will be repeated and her fears of him being forgotten lessen.
“I am here today to remember my son and my hero, Marine Sgt. Michael Heede,” Crothers, a Gold Star Mother who was the guest speaker at Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony in Bel Air, said.
Heede was 22 years old when he died July 7, 2009, two days after being injured by an improvised explosive device, in Afghanistan.
“This is Michael,” Crothers said. “He made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure we remain the land of the free.”
At 18 years old, when they’re not old enough to buy cigarettes or have a drink, men and women and join the military, and “possibly die for their country,” John Melcher, adjutant of Bel Air American Legion Post 39, said. Some for adventure, for a better life, or a calling to do something more.
“They all give, and they give, and they give some more. Most are scared like hell, but keep going back because it’s their duty, it’s their calling,” Melcher said. “As Americans we should remember freedom is not free. It’s only possible because of our fallen heroes that have paid a high price.”
It also, “unfortunately,” he said, have ceremonies like the one Monday, which included a 21-gun salute and music from the Bel Air Community Band as well as wreaths laid by a number of military community groups.
‘My little boy’
Crothers said it’s for her to describe her son as a soldier, “because he’s always my little boy.”
Instead, she chose to read excerpts from letters she received after her son’s death.
Capt. Kevin Booher, Sgt. Heede’s commander for seven months, described him as a “bright spot in long days in the field and the in the office.”
He was an impressive young man who was promoted early to sergeant because of his performance and ability, which was far above that of other Marines competing for the spot.
“He stood out because of his confidence, ability and compassion,” Booher wrote. “It was comforting to know he was there taking care of his fellow marines.”
Heede’s best friend, Sgt. John Cox, was six months ahead of Heede in training. They trained together and Heede quickly caught up, and becase friends during their deployments.
Then they were inseparable, Cox wrote. They would wake up for each other’s fire watch so they didn’t have to sit alone.
“Mike and I would compete with everything, though no matter how much I tried, he was always a little bit better at me than everything,” Cox wrote in his letter. “The ones that knew us best called us a married couple because we were at each other’s throats with something.”
Cox told Crothers her son was his turn-to guy whom he looked up to.
“If there is one thing I could tell Mike now, it would be the truth is I always looked up to you and you have been an idol to me like a big brother, though you’re younger and I outweigh you by 40 pounds,” Cox wrote.
One of the hardest things to do for Cpl. Kevin Wallen was honor a Marine of Heede’s caliber, he wrote to Crothers.
“I realized, all I had to do was explain the Sgt. Heede I knew, the impact he had on all of us that knew him, the person Sgt. Heede was at work, away from work, at happy hour,” Wallen wrote.
He was also comforted having Heede by his side at work. Being engineers is tough, but Heede made it look so easy, he said.
“Having Sgt. Heede in our platoon was like having a real life engineer bible. For me, having Mike around was having the ‘engineer guidebook for dummies,’” Wallen said. “You just knew he would handle anything that was thrown at him and most of the time he would throw it back with a smile.”
When he learned of Heede’s death, the first thing that went through is mind was that he lost a friend, the platoon lost a true leader.
“Slowly it hit me, yes, Sgt. Heede is gone, but not before he had a definite impact on all of us,” Wallen wrote. “That’s how he stays with us, that’s how we carry on his name, by the times we shared, the memories we have, the stories we tell and the things he taught us and the things we teach the marines that come behind us when they’re in his shoes. I, we, will never forget him and I’ll lead by his example.”