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08-03-06, 03:20 AM #1
Operation Bedding: For her son and all his Marine pals
Posted on Thu, Aug. 03, 2006
Stu Bykofsky | Operation Bedding: For her son and all his Marine pals
ADAM CONBOY unwittingly created his own memorial.
In his last conversation with his mom, the 21-year-old lance corporal asked her to round up clean sheets for himself and his Marine buddies in Iraq - 40 sets of them, because there are 40 Marines to a platoon.
"C'mon, mom, get 'Operation Bedding' going," Adam urged in a phone call on Sunday, May 7.
He died five days later in Anbar province.
He had been in Iraq eight weeks.
In addition to her bottomless grief, Mary Conboy has a mission. She is granting her son's last wish - not to benefit him, but for his Marine brothers.
It's not just bedding. Her list of other Marine "wants" includes pads, pencils, magazines, sweat socks, baby wipes, headbands, tuna, lip balm, sunscreen, Slim Jims, candy, gum and TastyKakes.
They might be U.S. Marines, but most are barely beyond the reach of boyhood.
Mary Conboy, 45, sits in the living room of the five-bedroom Roxborough house where Adam spent his entire life and his six siblings grieve for their big brother with the easy smile. Pictures of Adam are on the wall over the fireplace; his Marine dress white hat rests on the mantle, a solemn, gleaming icon of a bright life cut short. "Operation Bedding," she says, "does give me a sense of purpose and peace. It just makes me feel like Adam is able to help somebody. This is really a gesture from him."
Operation Bedding started with another gesture.
Before the funeral for her eldest son, keeping his last wish in mind, Mary Conboy thought, "In lieu of flowers, why not ask for donations?"
Friends and family responded. "I thought it would be one big shipment," Mary Conboy says.
There have been five big shipments so far, worth about $4,000, not counting money spent on costly postage. Operation Bedding, formally known as the Adam C. Conboy Memorial Fund, gets no help from the military.
While talking about her son, Mary Conboy frequently refers to Adam in the present tense, maybe because her loss is so recent, maybe because Adam lives on in her heart.
He joined the Marines because "he felt it was his generation's duty to defend the country as generations before had," Mary Conboy says. As a mom, her stomach twisted when she thought of her son going to war, but she honored his decision then. She honors it even today.
"He believed in it," she says simply, firmly.
The strapping, 6-foot-4 Adam planned to serve one hitch and return home to become a firefighter, another dangerous occupation with service to others at its core.
Anyone could see he was a special kind of kid.
Lt. Col. N.L. Cooling saw it. In his letter of condolence to Mary Conboy, Adam's commanding officer described him as a "bright, talented and resourceful Marine" whose "winning spirit lives on among the Marines with whom he served" - Marines such as Lance Cpl. Eric Garcia, a self-described New York-born, Puerto Rican brawler with a "bad attitude" who used to hang only with his "own kind."
"To be honest, I did not really mingle or associate myself with white people, but after meeting Conboy I realized we were all the same, just different colors," he wrote to Mary Conboy.
"No one liked me. In fact, the whole platoon was against me," Garcia wrote, until Adam offered him friendship. "Everywhere him and his boys went, he'd invite me even though his friends didn't want me around." Over time, having this one true friend changed Garcia.
"I don't know why he did the things he did for me, but it touched my heart, something nobody touched. I'm grateful that God has blessed me with knowing Conboy... . We talk all the time and he's always telling me that he's with us."
The military was wonderful to Adam, Mary Conboy says. "He became a man of integrity. He had self-confidence; he just had a peace about him."
Adam graduated third in his Marine recruit class, "a novelty for him," his mom says with a brief smile, because Adam "struggled" academically at nearby Roxborough High. "To see him so proud, and so strong - he was just aglow and the Marines did that for him."
Now, Mary Conboy is doing for the Marines.
With Operation Bedding, she supports her son's memory and the needs of his buddies, such as Eric Garcia. Mary Conboy's mission will not end when Adam's platoon returns home in October. There are other Marines in Iraq with the same needs.
Her son Adam is home from Iraq, laid to honored rest in his Marine Corps blue dress uniform. Mary Conboy will run Operation Bedding until all the other Marine mothers have their sons home from Iraq.
E-mail email@example.com or call 215-854-5977. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/byko.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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