From the stone-lined circular plot at Woods Hollow Nature Preserve, Gen. John McGuiness presented a square box bearing a Purple Heart medal inside.
The crowd dressed in black along Rowland Street looked on, some in tears, many in solemnity, as McGuiness described what it means to earn a Purple Heart.
“It is one given because you have somehow suffered some type of injury in combat,” he said. “The service that you give to the nation, the purple in the heart itself, is in recognition of the heartache and the sorrow and the pain and suffering that occurs, too.”
That heartache was visible on the faces of Douglas Cordo Jr.’s family Sunday morning. The 20-year-old died in Zabul province, Afghanistan, when his unit was hit by an improvised explosive device. He had been there only five months.
As his family struggled to remain dry-eyed, McGuiness continued to announce the decorations Cordo earned in the time he served.
The Bronze Star is presented for valor. It’s one of the highest decorations a soldier in a combat environment can earn.
The last vision Cordo’s squad leader had of him was as a young soldier going around to all of his squad members and telling them everything would be OK.
“He’s just checking out people and before they went out, he said, ‘Everything’s going to be OK. We’re going to be fine. We’re going to make it, don’t worry,’ ” McGuiness told the gathered crowd. “And that’s just the kind of person he is.”
The Good Conduct medal is awarded to soldiers who exhibit good character and values. Inscribed on the medal are the words “efficiency,” “honor” and “fidelity.”
One of Cordo’s gunnery mates, a private first class, was feeling down one day as he sat all alone in his room in Fort Wainwright, Alaska, where the two were based. Cordo knocked on his door and asked why he was sitting around.
“Let’s go, let’s go do something,” Cordo said, McGuiness recalled. He insisted they “just go do something.”
Cordo’s insistence made his friend feel good and picked up his spirits, McGuiness said.
Onlookers briefly smiled as McGuiness described the Good Conduct medal.
“It’s where you grow up,” he said. “It’s the values of the community where you’re from. It’s those values, the character that all of you have, that all of you who contributed as a community to him when he joined the army that he already had, and was able to exhibit and grow higher and become a better person.”
The War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, is awarded to members who deploy overseas in an expeditionary manner “in order to defend the nations and our freedoms,” McGuiness continued.
“I’m very proud of my son,” Doug Cordo Sr. said at the service’s opening. “He died so we could all be free and I’ll never see him married, or his [kids]. But he didn’t die in vain; at least he died for something. And I pray that everybody appreciates that. You showing up shows me that.”
The Afghan Campaign medal is presented to soldiers as they complete their tour of Aghanistan. Cordo and his fellow soldiers would walk the unwelcoming streets of Zabul, talking to the natives and doing their best to make a difference, McGuiness said.
It could be burdensome, literally. Soldiers carry a lot of weight, with food, water, ammunition, clothing and body armor.
“Doug was the type of guy that would always say, ‘Hey, I’ll take more of this, I’ll take more of that,’ ” McGuiness recalled at Sunday’s memorial. “He always took more than what was expected of him because that was the kind of person he was, and he was always recognized for that.”
The NATO medal recognizes Cordo as part of “a world effort,” a citizen of one of 33 nations fighting a similar cause against terrorism.
The 2009 Kingston High School graduate joined the Army in 2010. He was a member of the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Cordo’s father, stepmother and 10-year-old sister each received a Gold Star lapel pin, given to family members of soldiers who have fallen in combat.
After the ringing notes of “Taps,” a Veterans of Foreign Wars salute and lowering of the American flag to half-staff, McGuiness and Sgt. 1st Class Michael Rosen exchanged a solemn salute before giving a folded American flag to Doug Cordo Sr.
“It’s just very hard to have words at this particular moment,” Cordo said, lightly caressing the flag as he spoke. “His little sister will miss him. And I want to thank the Honor Guard and the people here who knew Doug. I appreciate that with all of my heart. Just never forget Doug, OK?”
Tears rolled down Krystal Cordo’s cheeks as she and her family accepted condolences. The 10-year-old sister of Doug said she is proud of her brother.