For the Recorder
On Nov. 7 my mother died of multiple sclerosis. She had the disease for more than 35 years and suffered from the time she was diagnosed to the very last day. The day before she died, I received a phone call from my father in New York and he advised me that my mother would probably not make it through the night. In a moment's notice, I called the command, and was sent home to see my mother before she was to pass. I drove the five-hour trip at Marine speed and was able to see her hours before she passed.
The next day at about 0930 my father took the call and was advised my mother passed in her sleep. In the end, I, by the grace of my command, was able to see my mother prior to her passing. I as well was the last person from my family to see her alive.
My name is Master Sgt. Szabo. I have been in the Corps for over 21 years and have been attached to two I&I commands. I have logged over 300 funerals and multiple CACO calls. I have stood in front of many next of kin spouses, mothers, fathers and children and presented the flag to them with the utmost professionalism. Many of the funerals I have completed, you wonder how the family sees us in our blues. Do they care, do they have anger toward us, or are they excited to see us? These are the questions I always asked myself doing someone else's funeral. Not until recently did I get to stand on the other side of the fence and feel what the other side feels.
My mother as mentioned died of multiple sclerosis. She was never in the Marines, nor did she serve in any branch of the military. She did however marry a Marine (my father), live among Marines (most of my father's siblings), and she gave birth to one of the proudest Marines on the planet. She would never have a full military burial by the order, nor would she be graced by a flag folding in honor of her service to the country for raising a Marine son, waiting for 21 years for her son to come home while bed-ridden, and never saying when are you going to get out. She mostly said stay in and make it a career and that she was proud of my service.
The funeral planning went as any did from the past: flowers ordered, music requested, and I even got ahold of one of my peers, Cpl C.J. Rando, who served with me 15 years ago. He put on his blues (tight fitting) and stood next to me during the funeral to give his respects to the family. While he and I were standing in the reception area with my wife and father, one of my cousins whom I have not seen in 15 years came up and told me there were a bunch of Marines outside and on their way in. I looked out the window from the funeral home and assumed they were Marine Corps League members doing something for the Marine Corps birthday. Since my mother's funeral was on the Marine Corps birthday, it just seemed likely this is what was going on and I just focused my attention on my family ... until ...
Moments later the front door opened, there were five Marines from my command in full dress coming through the door. These five Marines ranged from my commanding officer, all the way to my platoon sergeant. These Marines showed up without informing me to show honors for a family they didn't have to show honors to. In a command that serves three to five funerals a week, multiple parade details, Toys for Tots, and training of more than 120 Marines, the senior staff took the time to drive to my mother's funeral. As mentioned, the Marines came up on a federal holiday, took time away from their families, drove on their own dime, placed my mother in the hearse, and then spent time with my family after the funeral was complete.
At the moment they came through the door I understood what all the other families must have felt when we showed up. It became apparent that we are appreciated for what we do, because if a screw like me can lose his bearing and break down in front of his command, then the people we serve must feel the same thing. My mother did not rate a funeral from Marines. The only time I have ever seen Marines at a funeral such as a civilian is when the president passes on. Once again, they came, and I realized that the Marine Corps family I have means just as much to me as my real family.
The reason I am writing this letter is to show my utmost respect and honor for what they did. No medals will be given out, no awards will be signed, and no days off were given for what they did. They just continued to march and do more funerals as the tasks came down. My family was honored by their presence, I was humbled by my brother's presence, and the Marines were taken in as family by my family. Laughs were had, tears were shed, bread was broken, and a brotherhood between my family and my Marine family was created.
My mother, Norma Jean Szabo, was honored that day, and all the Szabo family present at her funeral were dumbstruck by the Marine power that was there. A scene like this has never taken place in upstate New York, so powerful that the priest himself broke down from the spectacle that was the support of a Marine Corps team that showed up to support a family.
I would like to recognize each Marine for their time and effort:
* Major Stanley Calixte (I&I). This officer has only been on deck for about three months, but he still found the time to drive himself and his wife to a funeral that was a 10-hour round-trip drive, and show more support for a Marine under his command than any officer I have ever known.
* GySgt. Eric Cruz (acting 1st Sgt./training chief). This GySgt left his family while on a federal holiday and while his children were going to test for their next belt in martial arts to show his respect for a fellow brother.
* GySgt Alan Montoya (admin chief). This GySgt while planning to go on leave to Nevada to see his family, placed his personal plans on hold to show another Marine brother his respects.
* S.Sgt Tommy Ware (assistant training chief). Placed his personal life on hold and left his wife and children home after a long deserved break and showed his respects to a family whom he never knew.
* Sgt. Bradley Flook (floor chief). This sergeant of sergeants gave up time with his newly born infant daughter and young wife to spend time with his SNCOIC in a time of hardship when a phone call would have sufficed.
The Marines above will never be awarded for what they did, but their actions will be remembered as one of the most important acts of compassion, kindness, and honor that the Szabo family and I have ever seen.
Master Sgt. CHRISTOPHER M. SZABO is a 1991 graduate of Fonda-Fultonville Central School who joined the Marines right after graduating. He is stationed at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island.