CECILTON — West Main Street in Cecilton is notable for many reasons — it is in view of the Cecilton Volunteer Fire Company, it is home to the town’s one red light and it now boasts an American flag that flies proudly in the center of the small town, donated by the Royal Farms store in its shadow.
And now, a permanent memorial to Cecilton’s own U.S. Army Cpl. Brandon Craig — killed in action by an improvised explosive device while deployed in Iraq on July 19, 2007 — is prominently displayed at the base of the flagpole. Among a patch of perennially green grass and flanked by benches sits a 3,000 pound Vermont black granite reminder inscribed with the words, “Only God knows why.”
Craig — who signed up for the army after the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001 — had the same inscription on his body as a tattoo.
On Saturday, more than 100 people residents and neighbors gathered at the town square, including Cecilton’s oldest resident, 104-years-young Becky Smith, Chesapeake City mayor Rich Taylor and councilman Frank Vari and former Cecil Whig editor Jacob Owens.
Town Administrator Mary Cooper spearheaded the project, as she has had Craig on her mind since before she began heading up the day-to-day operations of the town of less than 1,000 people nearly two years ago.
“Many years ago I was in the PNC Bank when the teller told me that they would be closing the branch for a few minutes to pay their respects,” she recalled to the Whig in July. “We went outside and silently watched the funeral procession through town for Brandon, and that moment has stayed with me.”
On Saturday at 10 a.m., a solemn but warm dedication and remembrance began. Members of the military who worked with Craig unveiled the prism-shaped memorial, and several of Cecilton’s finest were on hand.
VFW Post 7867 contributed a color guard, who presented the colors on the west side of the memorial. The Cecil County Sheriff’s Department color guard presented colors to the memorial’s east.
“We know what Brandon stood for,” said Cecilton Mayor Joesph A. Zang III during the ceremony. Zang praised Craig for his valor and bravery, mentioning that the young man signed up for the U.S. Army after the terrorist attacks 19 years ago.
“We are blessed, we are all blessed by those who are with us right now in uniform that help protect us,” said VFW Post 7687 Chaplain Doug Caleb, before leading the gathering in a prayer. “Brandon was one of them. [. . .] These brave soldiers need to be praised for what they do to keep the wolves from baying at our doors to freedom and democracy.”
As tenor Zachary Lynwood sang the national anthem, Craig’s father Danny raised the flags on the new flagpole in his son’s honor.
Craig’s superior officer, Command Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell, spoke about Craig as a soldier — peppering in amusing anecdotes about his personality.
“He was an athlete, he was an avid hunter and he was a family man,” Troxell said.
“Brandon answered the call, and he joined the United States Army. He joined as an infantryman, because he wanted to be on the front lines, defending his country. But I don’t have to tell you, Brandon is like any other young man in the United States of America, and any other young man in the United States Army. He was very skilled with his weapon. He was very passionate about being good at his craft. But he did the normal things young men did.”
Troxell noted some of the more crass actions young men so often avail themselves of, like passing gas and bogarting his mother’s beef jerky.
“His hobbies when he was off duty was doing things like drinking beer and chasing girls,” he said. “But let there be no doubt: He was a consummate professional.”
In a poignant and emotional moment for all, Troxell also read a letter from the soldier who endured the blast with Craig, and described the moment of the blast.
“There was a waxy staleness in the air,” he read. “BOOM! The IED was in place in the right side of the road, and was initiated by a long wire that ran back into the [Iraqi] town. It was reverse bearing, so there was no way the convoy was going to see it.”
Craig’s mother Mary Jane was visibly shaken during the reading, as were many family, friends and those gathered. Just above, the sun shone and the American flag waved into a clear, blue sky.
While his family lives just outside of town limits in Earleville, Craig was well-known to many residents through his years in local schools and playing youth and high school sports.
Today, he is buried in Cecilton Zion Cemetery.
“The fact that he is buried here but there isn’t a permanent memorial in his honor has always weighed on me,” Cooper said in July. “One of the most exciting aspects of the project is that it is going to be in the center of town, so people will be able to see it, and potentially read it, from the town’s only stoplight. It was important to us that it wasn’t hidden away.”
After the ceremony, Cooper invited people to take an American flag as a remembrance of the event. Troxell embraced Craig’s mother, and friends flocked to speak to the Craig family.
Troxell introduced members of the military who were present with Craig during his deployment, including an intelligence officer. They, too, stayed close by the Craigs.
“I want everybody to know that these gentleman — when [Troxell] said they were there, they literally there with him,” Mary Jane told the Whig through tears. “There was a couple more that couldn’t make it. All of these men here have been family ever since. This isn’t the first time they’ve been here. When I call, they come. They’re just a wonderful group of men. Thank you, and thank everybody for being here.”