Sunday, June 12, 2011

Marine Lance Cpl. Sean M. N. O'Connor

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Sean M. N. O'Connor, 22, of Douglas, Wyo.

LCpl O'Connor was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died June 12, 2011 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while conducting combat operations.

He was Lance Cpl. Sean M. O'Connor. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in May 2007, not long after graduating from Douglas High School. He was slated to leave the Corps in March, but extended his contract to be with his military brothers in Afghanistan. That selfless act, say the people who knew him, showed how O'Connor felt about his country, his mission and his loved ones.

"He wanted to be with his brothers, to help keep them safe," Ed Sheridan, who taught O'Connor in the seventh grade, said Wednesday morning at his former student's funeral service. "And we lost him."

O'Connor, 22, died June 12 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan. His body came home Friday, where it was met by members of his family at the Converse County Airport.

On Wednesday morning, hundreds attended his funeral inside the gymnasium at Douglas High School. They were young and old. Some in coats and ties, some in T-shirts. All paid respects. All held American flags. Many could be heard weeping.

"This is a time that we sit back and think about a young man who gave his life so we can be free," said the Rev. John Owens, who officiated. "This time is set apart so we can comfort one another, so we can comfort the family."

O'Connor's father, Daniel O'Connor, served his country as a Marine for more than a decade. His only son was born on the Marine Corps Base in Camp Pendleton, Calif. All Sean O'Connor ever wanted, Sheridan said, was to follow in his father's footsteps.

"He wanted to be a soldier to make someone else's life better," Sheridan said, adding that O'Connor died doing what he wanted to do: "help people."

Family and friends remember him as a quiet, respectful young man who would rather help others than be the center of attention. He wasn't after accolades or glory, Sheridan said, but was "the best son, best brother, best boyfriend, best uncle, best friend anybody could want to have."

O'Connor's family moved to Douglas when he was 7 years old. It was the people of Douglas who shaped him. For that, Sheridan told the crowd, "He would thank each and every one of you."

O'Connor finished boot camp in August 2007. He then attended infantry school at Camp Pendleton. After graduating, he was assigned to Marine Barracks 8th and I Street in Washington, D.C. He was assigned to the Marine Color Guard and carried the national ensign for President George W. Bush and performed more than 150 ceremonies and funerals. Later, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton as a rifleman for the 1st Battalion 5th Marines. He left for Afghanistan in March.

On Tuesday, the men and women from his battalion paid tribute to him in Afghanistan.

Lance Cpl. Francisco N. Navarro, who served alongside O'Connor, described him as "a Marine, a friend and someone you can count on."

Sheridan shared two faint memories of O'Connor on Wednesday. They depict a thoughtful, humble young man: a solitary O'Connor, in a school hallway, approaching Sheridan and telling the educator, "Thank you for caring." And, after O'Connor had joined the military, Sheridan came upon him in a McDonald's eatery in Douglas. He was in uniform, Sheridan said, but still, "He was just Sean."

"All we have left is memories," Sheridan said. "Without those memories, he'll be gone."

Sheridan closed his statements Wednesday by telling O'Connor: "I will say we miss you, you'll never be forgotten, and thank you for letting me be a part of your world."

During the service, Owens led the crowd in reciting "The Lord's Prayer." The words echoed deep in the gymnasium. Later, the crowd held up and waved American flags in unison as music played.

After songs had been played and words had been spoken, six Marines walked to the front of the silent crowd and, gathered around his casket, saluted O'Connor. The uniformed men then carried the casket out of the room. The family followed it -- past clusters of people holding American flags along sidewalks, past countless yellow ribbons tied around trees -- to Douglas Park Cemetery, where Sean O'Connor was laid to rest with full military honors.

Marine Lance Cpl. Sean M. N. O'Connor was killed in action on 6/12/11.

No comments: