By Cpl. Tommy Bellegarde, 2nd Marine Division
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C — The Armed Forces of the United States has fought in numerous conflicts throughout the nation’s history and its troops have committed heroic acts during every battle of every war along the way. Even today, Marines and sailors stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., continue to uphold our military legacy while deployed to Afghanistan and other parts of the world. Regardless, one doesn’t need to be in the military to be a hero and ordinary citizens are certainly capable of extraordinary action.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation recognizes civilian heroes with its annual Citizen Service Before Self Honors during a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery every March 25.
One of the recipients for 2011 was Marie Conley, a crossing guard from Boston who was killed in the line of duty when she sacrificed herself to save the life of a young boy crossing the street in October 2008. Conley was seriously hurt after being struck by an automobile while shielding the child with her body to protect him from harm. Sadly, she succumbed to her injuries several days later.
Receiving the honors in her absence were her three sons including Cpl. Christopher Conley, a crew chief with 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division.
“It’s crazy – I can’t even think of the right words,” explained Conley about his feelings for receiving the award on behalf of his mother. “I’m just honored – it’s an absolute honor.”
The day before the ceremony, Medal of Honor recipients approached Conley, giving him their support.
“These people have gone above and beyond (the call of duty) and are thanking me for my service and my mother (for her bravery),” said Conley. “That hit me pretty hard – definitely in a good way though.”
Marie Conley was selected from hundreds of other applicants to be one of three individuals to receive Citizen Service Before Self Honors. She was chosen directly because of her heroic actions on that October day over two years ago.
“I think what this does is, on a national basis, brings forward the fact that (there are) Americans out there who have the courage to do the right thing – who will put others before themselves,” said Nick Kehoe, the president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.
After originally learning about the accident in October 2008, Cpl. Conley was shocked and devastated by the sudden news. However he was not at all surprised to learn that his mother sacrificed herself to save a child.
“It didn’t surprise me to be honest with you,” said Conley. “Her whole life she always put other people first.”