After Memorial Day, it's likely no one in the Laurel Gardens neighborhood of Ross will ever forget that U.S. Marine Sgt. Joseph D. Caskey graduated from North Hills High School, right down the street.
Sgt. Caskey's name and likeness are now memorialized on a large sign that hangs over the Sixth Street entrance of American Legion Post 80.
According to Bob Fleischel, commander of Post 80, the renaming of an American Legion post is a very significant event. "We're rededicating the post in honor of a fallen Marine. It's historical and earth-shaking and heart-pounding for me and all the other members of the military," he said just before the dedication ceremony Monday.
A West View-native and 2004 North Hills graduate, Sgt. Caskey, 24, was the commander of a 50-member convoy in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device June 26, 2010. He was killed in the incident. Sgt. Caskey also served in 2008 in Iraq.
"When [Sgt. Caskey] died and his remains came back for his funeral, the reception of the community was overwhelming," Mr. Fleischel said. "This made us see that honoring him as a young man of the community who made the ultimate sacrifice was the right decision. The Caskeys are a military family going all the way back to World War I."
Despite the sweltering heat, a group of nearly 400 people, including the Ross Police Color Guard, the Three Rivers Marine Corps League and the Active Duty Marine Color Guard and Rifle Teams, listened to friends, family and comrades give personal accounts of Sgt. Caskey's life and death and the effect he had upon everyone he'd met.
"They called him the German Giant," said Captain William Pendergast, USMC. "His magnetism compelled others to follow him, and his strength inspired others to make themselves strong."
U.S. Air Force Technical Sgt. Jeremy Caskey, 34, recounted all the times he and his brothers would pass the American Legion Post on their way to school. "We never could have dreamed that this would happen."
Marine Staff Sgt. Joshua Caskey, 31, suffered a traumatic brain injury from a suicide bomber during his service in Iraq and is now retired. He talked about how he feared for his brothers' safety, especially after Joseph embarked on his second tour of duty.
"I worried every single night that he was over there that he may not come home," Joshua said, adding that seeing the Caskey name on the post is an honor and a privilege. "My brother laid down his life for this country, and I am damn proud of that."
Sgt. Caskey's father, the Rev. Gerald Caskey, said, "The biggest thing about today is that we're overwhelmed by the support we're getting from not just our friends, but from people we don't even know who are a part of this community. It soothes the wound regarding our loss, but every time we drive by there we'll see his name and what it represents."
High school buddy Josh Trembulak, 25, of McCandless, said that the sign gives him comfort. "It will be nice to drive past here and see it," said Mr. Trembulak, noting that he and his fiancé, Stephanie Shola, 24, plan on taking a picture of themselves beneath the sign on June 2 -- their wedding day. "Joe introduced us." Sgt. Caskey's girlfriend, Megan Clark, 25, of West View, will continue to honor his memory with the Second Annual Fearless 5K, which will be June 30 at North Park's Boathouse. Proceeds will benefit The Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
"We're expecting an even bigger response this year," said Ms. Clark, founder of the event, which will feature family-friendly activities, vendors, raffles and prizes.
"The message of the race is about taking something bad and turning it into something good. That was the message of Joe's funeral."
Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.