LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The 21st century has produced its share of veterans who served in the Middle East in the footsteps of their military predecessors.
“This is the Mikey, I remember with that smile,” Michael’s mother, Marianne Cleary told us.
That smile belonged to Michael Cleary, the youngest of Marianne and Jack Cleary’s five children.
“This was our last Christmas with Mike right before he was deployed,” Cleary said.
His very desire to serve sparked just a few years earlier by 9/11.
“Obviously it was still in his mind that he was going to do this,” she said.
Just three weeks after graduating from college, Cleary attended Army Basic Training.
Mrs. Cleary reads, “Hard to believe but six weeks of basic training are already gone. I qualified as a sharpshooter.”
Letters which she cherishes remind her of her son’s military ambition.
Cleary remained stateside until that fateful January 2005 deployment to Iraq where he served as a junior commissioned officer. He carried out the dangerous role of a sapper, a trained military munitions expert called on to clear explosives.
“He truly believed he needed to serve his country. I mean he really, truly believed he needed to do that.”
During that deployment, 1LT Cleary called his family and fiancé as often as possible right up until that last call the Monday before Christmas 2005.
“I talked to him Monday and I just started crying. I called Jack and I said Jack something’s… he just sounds awful. He just doesn’t sound right and he was killed the next day.”
A roadside bomb took his life just ten days before he was due to come home on leave. He was 24.
The Cleary family, friends, and even active military and veterans united to pay their final respects.
“He really cared about his family and his friends and I think it’s what led him to go over and fight in Iraq and sacrifice his life. Hopefully, he’ll be remembered that way,” Salah Zalatimo, a family friend recalled.
1LT Cleary is remembered in a lasting way by the very community which helped raise him. The soccer field where he starred as a high school athlete bears his name. And a monument also on these school grounds is dedicated in his memory.
That monument is a way to remember all veterans who served including those who gave all like Cleary.
A road in Dallas Township is also named in his honor. And there’s one more tribute.
Mrs. Cleary says, “That is our young plebe.”
1LT Cleary’s nephew and Godson, Matthew Flannigan, is a West Point plebe on a path to military service and uncertain danger.
Matthew turned around and he said, “Everything’s going to be okay. Uncle Mike’s got my back.”
Veterans Day and every day, the Cleary family wants us to remember and be thankful for those who defend our freedoms.
“It’s because of the service that so many men and women have chosen.” When asked,, “Service like your son’s.” Mrs. Cleary responded, “Yes. Yep. Absolutely.”