Memorial Day

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philco
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Memorial Day

Post by philco » Wed Apr 18, 2012 10:16 pm

Memorial Day

I used to not give Memorial Day much thought. For me it was a chance to enjoy a long weekend. I did not give much thought to what the holiday was about. I knew it was originally a day set aside to honor our fallen soldiers, and that over time the scope had broadened to include all those who had passed on. When I was much younger, I remember going with my grandmother to the cemetery to place flowers on the graves of relatives. Other than that, it was pretty much just a day off.
Life has a way of changing the way you look at things. It certainly has for me. Memorial Day has a totally different meaning for me now because of a young man named Steven McGovern. The Lord chose to bless me with two wonderful daughters, but not a son. I guess my relationship with Steven came as close to having a son as I will ever get.
Steven was the stepson of William Hawkins who came to serve as the minister at Lancaster Christian Church where I was a member. My first recollection of Steven was when he was about fourteen or so. He had the most awful looking haircut I had seen on a kid; parted in the middle, down in both eyes, longer in the front than in the back. And he was proud of it. At one time I think I remember he dyed it orange.
I’d often see Steven sneaking a smoke out behind the church building. I smoked back then myself, and occasionally he’d bum a cigarette from me. During those smoke breaks, I gradually got to know him a little better. He was a kid who did not care much for school, more interested in mastering the skateboard than in bringing his grades up. He didn’t seem like a bad kid, just not terribly motivated .
A year or so after he became our minister, Rev. Hawkins drafted my wife and me to serve as the adult leaders of the high school aged youth group at our church. That’s when I really began to get to know Steven . He had an older brother, Michael, and a younger brother, Joe. Joe was too young to be a part of our youth group for the first couple of years we led it. Michael was with us for the first two years, before he was too old to participate any longer. Steven was the only one of the McGovern boys who was in the youth group all three years we led it.
We had an active youth group. Our group seemed to always have a project going or a trip we were planning and raising money for. We met weekly and shared a lot of meaningful discussions. Kids have a lot to say if adults will just listen, patiently. Steven was not terribly outspoken, but he did put his two cents worth in now and then. I came to realize he was a much more than the slacker I had pegged him for initially. Any time we were working on a project, he was a hard worker, willing to do whatever he was asked to do.
Our group was holding a car wash one Saturday, raising money for a trip to a church camp at Myrtle Beach. I brought my wife’s car and paid the kids to wash it in preparation of putting it up for sale. Steven was old enough by then to drive, but did not have his license. Still, when he found out I had a car for sale, being a typical teenage boy, he was immediately interested. I asked how much he had to spend on a car. The answer was zip. I didn’t have a buyer and he didn’t have a dollar, so we struck a deal.
I told Steven I would sign the title over to him if he would work 200 hours for me on my farm. He talked it over with his parents and then told me it was a deal. When school was out for the summer, Steven came to work for me. Each day, his stepfather drove him out to the farm by 8a.m. Steve would work all day, doing whatever chores I could think up for him to do. I worked with him a few days, but most of the time I was away doing my real job.
It was a challenge to come up with jobs he could do. He was a city kid and knew nothing about operating a tractor or chainsaw or most other farm equipment. But he could run a riding mower and a weed eater, so I had the summer off from mowing the yard. Steven painted the plank fence around our yard and elsewhere on the farm, managing to get nearly as much paint on himself and my old farm truck as he got on the fence. He painted it all with a brush and a roller. That took a while. Still he stuck with it and never complained even when it was scorching hot and muggy.
I don’t recall every job he did for me that summer, but I do remember he was willing to tackle anything I asked him to do, and he did his best at each and every task. Rain made it impossible to work occasionally, so it took Steven about six weeks to get in his two hundred hours. Never once during that time did he ever ask for a dime, although I offered several times to pay him. He wanted it all to go toward buying that old car.
When Steven had reached his required number of hours we had a cookout for him and his parents to acknowledge his work and to ceremoniously hand over the title to him. His grin lit up the room as he became the proud owner of his first set of ”wheels”. Not only had Steven earned his car that summer, he also earned my profound respect for his work ethic and determination. Simply put, there was a lot more to this kid than I had ever given him credit for up till then.
One of the things I learned about Steven was that since he was about six years old he’d told his mom and everyone else who asked that he wanted to join the Army as soon he was old enough. He never wavered from that goal. No other career path interested him.
I took Steven on his first hunting trip. We went after squirrels in a holler I know. Steven headed into the woods donning an army surplus ghillie suit. Leave it to him to turn a squirrel hunt into a special ops mission. I laughed while he wasn’t looking. He looked like a shrub toting a shotgun.
Several months after Steve worked for me , his older brother, Michael was killed in a car accident. Steven was devastated and seemed just lost for months afterward. As Michael lay in the hospital being kept alive by machines, Steven and I went outside and sat on a bench in the middle of the night and prayed. My heart ached for Michael. It also ached for Steven. A seventeen year old just shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of grief and loss.
Several months after Michael’s death my family planned a trip to my wife’s sisters home in New Mexico. I had promised my brother in law I’d help him to build a deck while I was there. Steven was obviously having a hard time coming to grips with the loss of his brother. I asked him to consider flying to New Mexico with me and my family. I told him I needed his help working on the deck. What I didn’t tell him was I hoped the trip would help, if only briefly, with his grief. He got permission from his family and I bought him a ticket. He had never been on a plane.
We built the deck in three days. Not bad for amateurs. We spent the rest of our week in the desert sight seeing. One stop we made was the huge flea market in Albuquerque. He bought his mom a pair of earrings and himself a big bayonet type knife, still dreaming of being a soldier. Steven returned to school for his final year shortly after we returned home .
During his last year of school, Steven signed up for the National Guard in a delayed entry program. He was on cloud nine. His dream was finally about to become reality. As soon as he was done with school, he was off to become the soldier he had always dreamed of being. I didn’t see a lot of Steven from that point on. Occasionally he’d drop by to visit. He had grown up to become a fine young man. By then his family had moved on to another church and his local ties were largely severed. He told me a little about his military duties, but a lot of it he kept to himself.
At some point, Steven transferred from the Guard to the Army. He pulled a tour in Afghanistan in an Army intelligence unit. He never told me a thing about what he did there. All I ever knew was he had a full beard while on active duty. Go figure. Eventually, his hitch with Uncle Sam ended. He then signed up with Blackwater , a military contractor, and headed to Iraq.
On April 21, 2005, Steven was aboard a helicopter that was shot down by an insurgent group. He was twenty four years old. The men who killed him filmed the helicopter as they shot it down with a rocket propelled grenade then handed the tape over to CNN.
For the next two days the television broadcasted that scene over and over again. There are no words to convey the horror and grief I experienced watching Steven being killed on TV. It was surreal. How could it be? This kid who had painted my fence, mowed my yard and become my friend was killed in a war on the other side of the planet and I sat and watched it in my living room. Suddenly that far away war was far too real and far too close to my home and my heart.
I attended Steven’s funeral. He was laid to rest at Camp Nelson National Cemetery with full military honors. I have visited his grave a couple of times since. It’s not easy for me to do. Each time I drive past I look up to where he is buried. I know the exact spot.
It was there at the cemetery that my perception of Memorial Day was forever changed. There I realized thousands of young men and women just like Steven have given their all for the sake of this country. The white headstones laid out so neatly in perfect alignment are to me a symbol now of all those who have served to keep us free.

Steven had a special place in my heart and always will, yet he was but one of countless thousands who have put themselves in harm’s way in order to preserve our nation. Each and every one of those who died left behind people who loved them and grieved their deaths. Each one of them died far too soon, far too young and left a hole in the hearts of those they left behind. Standing there amid all those white grave markers I began to more fully comprehend the true cost of freedom. I have a new reverence and respect for the holiday and all it has come to represent. I remember Steven. I salute them all.

Phil Stevens
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Re: Memorial Day

Post by orvet » Wed Apr 18, 2012 10:35 pm

Very touching story Phil.

Excellent & well written.
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Re: Memorial Day

Post by Paladin » Wed Apr 18, 2012 11:03 pm

orvet wrote:Very touching story Phil.

Excellent & well written.
My thoughts precisely, Phil. I feel like I should say something profound but it would only seem puny up beside your story.
RIP Steven.
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Re: Memorial Day

Post by caddyman1973 » Thu Apr 19, 2012 1:09 am

Dog gone it! You guys really know how to choke an Ol' boy up. Great stories, experiences and tear jerkers from you guys.
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Re: Memorial Day

Post by Bret888 » Thu Apr 19, 2012 3:12 am

I wish your story was a fiction Phil.....

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philco
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Re: Memorial Day

Post by philco » Thu Apr 19, 2012 10:49 am

So do I Brett..........but then I'd have never known that fine young man.
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Re: Memorial Day

Post by AREMINGTONSEDGE » Thu Apr 19, 2012 2:34 pm

My God bless you Phil and especially the family that lost two sons. Thank you for sharing such an inspirational and moving part of your life. I also thank Sgt. Steven Mathew McGovern for giving his ultimate sacrifice. As he laid down his life for his fellow man I am reminded in memorial of thought, of our precious Saviour who willingly laid down his for the salvation of all mankind. I am so priviledged and blessed not only to have a place that I can go to share my intrests in knives but also a wellspring to draw from when my soul is thirsty and weak. The great comission is for us to go out and minister to one another in the gospel of Christ. Through the shared testimonials of living, loving and dying with our families and friends you men in Christ do just that. May God continue to bless and keep you. May His Grace and Spirit always cover you in mercy and love.
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Re: Memorial Day

Post by Gunsmoke47 » Fri Apr 20, 2012 1:15 am

God bless you Phil..... And God bless Steven. I know he is at his true home now.

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Re: Memorial Day

Post by wizrd » Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:51 pm

Thanks for sharing that touching story. I never did have the opportunity to serve our country, but I lost my best life-long friend in Viet-Nam, Sept. '68. Along with two other high school friends, the same year. I'm not a real religious person, but I do take the time every day to thank God that men like these have lived, and to say a little prayer for the men & women who have served our great country.

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Re: Memorial Day

Post by jerryd6818 » Mon Apr 23, 2012 1:40 pm

Did anyone else call it 'Decoration Day' or is that just a Southern Illinois thing? I don't remember hearing it called 'Memorial Day' until I was almost grown.
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philco
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Re: Memorial Day

Post by philco » Tue Apr 24, 2012 1:07 am

Jerry my grandmother called it "Decoration Day" until the day she died. I think it's a term that has gone out of vogue now but was once in common use.
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Re: Memorial Day

Post by sextonknifeworks » Wed Apr 25, 2012 1:49 am

What a loss. Thanks for sharing this story and part of your life for this modern day hero. No doubt the influence you had on him help make him the man that he was. Too many of these men go unnoticed and unapreciated.

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Re: Memorial Day

Post by stagman » Sat May 05, 2012 9:15 am

That was a really nice tribute to Steven Phil
I am sure he is watching and is thankfull to you also
I grew up knowing just what that day the end of may meant
I recieved my full name in honor of my Uncle Bill...
he went down on the USS Indianappolis at the end of WW2
remember goin to town every memorial day for a ceromony and to lay flowers
at the statue for WW2 veterans who perished
I have had his purple heart framed and hanging on my bedroom wall
since I was 10 yrs old, so over 50 yrs now I have a daily reminder of
what this day means
Will

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Re: Memorial Day

Post by RobesonsRme.com » Thu May 17, 2012 12:39 am

Phil, that's a great, sad and intimately moving remembrance. I was moved to tears.

Steven was allowed to grow a full beard while in Afghanistan because he was working closely with Afghan men. Some forms Islamism require men to be fully bearded. Those kind of men could not properly respect, nor would they properly respond to or follow, a clean shaven American adviser.

God bless you, Phil, for the positive influence you were in Steven's young life.

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Re: Memorial Day

Post by RobesonsRme.com » Wed May 30, 2018 3:07 pm

Steven Mathew McGovern
Sgt, US Army
Afghanistan

Steven Matthew McGovern, a former sergeant in the Army National Guard with the 20th Special Forces Group, died in a helicopter crash in Iraq. He was employed by Blackwater Security Consulting. He lived in Lexington, Kentucky and grew up in Garrard County where he graduated from Garrard County High School. He was 24 years old.

McGovern was one of six American security contractors killed in a helicopter crash approximately 12 miles north of Baghdad after being hit by a missile. A militant group of insurgents responsible for several attacks and deaths in Iraq claimed responsibility. Eleven people died in the crash. He was working under a Defense Department contract to protect American diplomats.

Steven deployed to Afghanistan as a member of 20th Special Forces group in 2002 and 2003.

He left The National Guard in February 2005 to accept the job as a security contractor with Blackwater Security Consulting, a security firm based in North Carolina that hired veterans for jobs previously assigned to the military.

He had planned to return home to Kentucky to marry his fiancée in Danville, Kentucky.

Funeral Services: Services for Steven M. McGovern were held at Central Christian Church in Lexington, KY, on May 16, 2005. He was buried in Camp Nelson National Cemetery.


I read Phil's moving post once again this past Memorial Day and the fact that Steven wore a full beard while on deployment in Afghanistan made me wonder if he was not a Special Forces Soldier.

He was.

De Opresso Libre, Steven.

Charlie Noyes
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