Marybeth T. Hagan
is a freelance writer
in Rose Valley
Every day is Memorial Day for Mary Conboy.
Mary's firstborn, Lance Cpl. Adam C. Conboy, 21, died May 12, 2006, in Iraq. His fellow Marines let Mary know that the late rifleman from Roxborough had earned their love and respect.
The loving son, who Mary said "always behaved like an older brother toward his siblings and protected his autistic brother, Ryan," also made his pals laugh. "He was always a jokester."
Adam's buddies let Mary know about their first night in Iraq. Six of them were sent out in a humvee. Adam, the only one wearing night goggles, drove. There was absolute silence until Adam sliced through the soldiers' tension and burst into his own rendition of Whodini's "Freaks Come Out at Night."
During one Sunday morning phone call home, Adam mentioned the troops' dire need for bedding. Mattresses were often drenched with sweat and stench from troops living in daytime temperatures of 120 degrees and up to 110 at night. "Whatever you send, make sure it is in the amount of 40," said Adam. "Get your church lady friends to help you."
Adam died five days later. Within months, the Adam C. Conboy Memorial Fund, the Philadelphia nonprofit organization behind Operation Bedding, was born.
The first batches of supplies went to Adam's unit, with the items and shipping financed by donations from funeral-goers. Since then, Mary and company - including Adam's dad, Chuck Conboy; Mary's husband, Gary Warner; Adam's siblings, Kaitlin, Evan, Ryan, Meagan, Morgan, and Gracie; friends; and other volunteers - have sent more than 12,000 boxes to troops overseas. Individual, group, and corporate donations keep the operation going.
Operation Bedding's headquarters in Roxborough is well-stocked with items waiting to be shipped to soldiers on active duty. Mary and her crew keep their inventory filled with troops' favorites, like packets of tuna (no cans), Slim Jims, beef jerky, and powder packets of Gatorade. Shelves are lined with socks, foot powder, bug spray, washcloths, toiletries, power bars, moisture lotion, hard candy, gum, twin-size sheets, and eyedrops.
"We have the supplies," Mary says with a sigh. "We need the money to ship them. I'm always begging" for monetary donations. It costs about $750 to ship 40 standard Army Post Office boxes to the troops.
It's something Mary is happy to do, on behalf of Adam and deployed troops past, present, and future, like her son Evan, 20, who's in Marine boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
She'll take a short break from those duties this weekend, addressing the Memorial Day gathering at Avalon, N.J. She was recommended to borough officials for the honor by retired Army Col. Kevin McAleese, who has been a fan of Mary's since he first read an article about Operation Bedding.
"I've known Mary for a while now," McAleese said. "She's done a great job. Mary's commitment allows her to go to bed at night and say, 'Adam, look what I did for you today!' "