A Father's Promise
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The night of Justin's funeral, into the early morning hours of July 29th, I couldn't sleep so I got up and walked through the downtown of my hometown in New York State. I'd had this idea after the funeral that I just wanted to do more -- I had to do something to honor Justin.
I had first thought of trying to have the 57 miles of the Adirondack Northway that runs through Essex County, New York, named in honor of him, but I also was drawn downtown to the war memorial that lists my father's name and the names of cousins and folks from town that have served in various wars through the years. As I walked around and looked I found there was room there between the two existing monuments. I had a vision of a memorial that I wanted to do personally for my son. I had this one image and I wanted to build it with my own hands in honor of Justin.
I walked through the whole town -- it was probably a four hour walk. I just became more determined that that was what I was going to do for next Memorial Day. I realized while I was up there in New York that week, after talking to the Essex County and state representatives, that it was going to be a daunting task to have that section of the interstate named for him in that timeframe.
I wanted to do something for this Veterans Day to honor my son because people have the tendency to forget. Justin's great grandparents are still with us. My grandparents are in relatively in good health -- Grandpa Alton is 99 and Grandma Marie is 93. I wanted it done so that they could see it in honor of their great grandson for this Veterans Day.
On the way back from Florida my wife and I had written the names of sections of interstate that were named for various senators, purple heart memorial highways and overpasses that were named for various folks. I realized that I might be able to get a bridge over the interstate named in Justin's honor. I thought of a road that crosses the Adirondack Northway that is known locally up there in the Adirondacks as Garvey Mill Road (technically CR 12). I made a few phone calls and it was relatively easy to get the bridge named in his honor because it was at the county level. We made plans to dedicate it on Veterans Day.
I had a memorial service planned for Justin here in my hometown of Keystone Heights, Florida, in August, two weeks after we got back. I was sitting at home going through pictures to get them set up for the memorial service and it was just emotionally draining. I broke down emotionally and I kept thinking about this memorial I wanted to do. I wanted to do it then, right now, and I didn't have the time and couldn't do it. I thought it was a worthwhile goal to look forward to, and I thought about how many other parents there were sitting there doing the exact same thing that I was right now -- feeling totally helpless and wanting to do something but not knowing what to do. This feeling of helplessness was just overwhelming. I thought of all the folks that lost their children in this war. They lost a child and it's just devastating.
Then it came to me as I was sitting there. I was holding a picture of Justin and looking at the flagpole in front of the house. I had a recurring vision of the memorial and as I sat there I thought, "You know, the simplicity of this memorial, the basic design, I could put one in the hometown of every hero we lost or will lose in this war."
I just looked at the picture of Hobie (Justin's nickname) and said, "Hobie, we've got a lot of work to do." I had been thinking about what on earth I was going to do for the rest of my life and that's where I made the determination that these memorials were what I was going to move forward on.
Around mid-September I learned there was a survivor of the ambush where my son and Jason Jordan were killed, so I contacted him. I spoke with Sgt. Doug Norman and it was a very emotional and trying time, but there was some closure there as well. I received a letter from his father, Matt Norman, and we started corresponding back and forth. I shared my vision with him of what I wanted to do. Before I knew it, this vision had pretty much taken on a life of its own.
I also shared the vision with Tom Weiskotten, a lifelong friend, and Allen Hill from Congressman Cliff Stern's office (my representative in Congress from Florida). Roy Smith, a friend, designed the web site and Ian Frisbie put my vision on paper.
Sgt. Doug Norman wanted to reenlist at the Veterans Day bridge dedication ceremony He is reenlisting for three years to honor Justin and fellow soldier Jason Jordan, and I am overwhelmed and humbled by that. He's been assigned to the Old Guard, the honor guard unit at Arlington National Cemetery.
Within a month people not only saw the vision of these memorials, they embraced it and have been unbelievably helpful, supportive, and inspirational. It has truly been a humbling experience. There are too many people to name but with the spiritual strength I've drawn from God, Justin, and everybody involved and with their prayers this has been an uplifting moment -- no, movement, I should say. I just have to say this is how it all started: it was just a vision of a dad wanting to do something to honor his son.
Hopefully this will be spiritually uplifting and helpful to all the other parents and family members out there. It's a small token for the sacrifices that they have made as well as their family members and loved ones. It's been a combination of the right people, the right place, the right time, for the right cause, and thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
- Gregg Garvey