The Army made a man of James Cardamon, but not in the way it has for thousands of others.
He understood the need for discipline, the sense of tradition and the commitment it took. What he didn’t understand was what it means to serve.
Cardamon, who was the featured speaker at Brookfield Township’s Memorial Day observance in Brookfield Township Cemetery, said an elderly woman taught him that lesson.
Cardamon served from 1956 to 1958 with the 3rd Infantry Regiment, “The Old Guard,” in Arlington, Va., including nine months with the color and drill teams and 10 months as a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“Sixty-one years ago today, I was about to finish my 10-month tour as a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider,” said Cardamon, of Hermitage. “The last ceremony that I participated in was the interment of the World War II and Korean War unknowns. I share that with you, because it helps me tell you about the evolution from a self-absorbed, 20-year-old to a mature, young man.”
Cardamon, whose wife, Reenie, is a 1957 Brookfield High grad, said he had a clear goal in mind when he was assigned to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
“When I first had my chance to train for guard duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I wanted to be the best spit shiner, I wanted to have the shiniest brass, I wanted to have the best rifle manual and the best pressed uniform in the platoon,” said Cardamon, who also served four years in the reserves. “I wanted to be the sharpest soldier that ever walked that mat. I wanted Jim Cardamon to be the best of the best.”
On his first day “on the mat,” “I thought I had arrived,” Cardamon said.
“However, I soon started to develop a different mindset. I remember seeing people standing with bowed heads, obviously in prayer.”
A couple of nuns came by one day and asked that God bless him for what he was doing, he said.
Then, that elderly woman chatted him up about the number of steps he walked while on the mat – 21 – and he explained the significance of them. They are a stand in for a 21-gun salute.
“She then said to me something that I have never forgotten, and it still gives me chills when I repeat it, and it’s happening to me right now,” Cardamon said. “She said, ‘You may not realize it, but my son went off to war and never got home. This is the only place I have to come to and talk to him.’ It was at that moment that I became an emotionally mature young man. I realized that this monument was something much more than a place for me to look sharp. It was a place for all America to honor all the men and women that loved their country and its freedoms so much that they were willing to pay the ultimate price if called on to do so.”
The fruit of that willingness to pay the ultimate price is a country with a “heritage of freedom,” said Pastor Dick Smith of Brookfield United Methodist Church in his closing prayer.
“We enjoy liberty, security and peace, unlike many other countries in this world,” said Smith, an Army vet. “Those who make this possible, the members of our armed forces, are neighbors and family members who have sacrificed their liberties and peace, even sacrificing their lives for us. We remember today those who have served our country in uniform so that we can enjoy freedom. Lord, we ask that you abundantly bless each serviceman and woman, each veteran and each military family, past and present. May we never forget their sacrifices.”
Other participants in the observance included the Cub Scout Pack 62 and Boy Scout Troop 3, which raised the flag; Brookfield Township Volunteer Fireman’s Auxiliary, which laid flowers on the veterans’ memorial marker, and held lunch afterward at the township social hall; Brookfield Rotary Club; Brookfield Police, Fire and Road Departments; Brookfield High School Marching Band; and Bob Vaia, who provided the public address system and videotaped the observance.
The following veterans who have died in the past year were honored:
Edward A. Bee, Army
John Wayne Berena, Marines
Carl Brickey, Army
Russell L. Carter, Army
Michael Cluse, Army
Gordon L. Collins, Army
Charles Gene Donaldson, Army
Richard G. English, Marines
Edward David Fabick, Army
Richard C. Fette, Army
Larry A. Fisher, Army
Thomas H. Galloway, Navy
William Allison Goodwin, Marines
Eugene Paul Goss, Army
Ephraim A. Hawkins, Navy
Carl George Kokor, Army
John S. Komorek, National Guard
Harry P. Leftheris, Army
Harold R. Leipheimer, Air Force
James Longley, Air Force
Jimmy V. Mayle, Marines
William McMullin, Army
Robert F. Miller, Army
John Morosa, Army
John Joseph Palumbo, Marines
Robert Earl Polm, Army
Jams W. Reeher, service branch unknown
Jerry L. Reichert, Navy
Ralph L. Ricciardi, Army
John Rumelfanger, Army
Leonard Rust, Air Force
Raymond C. Sankey, Marines
Robert J. Seiple, Navy
James F. Sinkuc, Army
William Ronnie Spruill, Army
Charles W. Stevens, Marines
Clarence L. Stowe, Navy
Andrew Thomas, Marines
Francis J. Vendemia, Army
Frank Devaughn Wheat, Army
William S. Wilson, Army