By James McLoughlin
I met Jimmy Mac about 10 years ago. He serves as a Deputy Chief with the City of Hartford Fire Department, the capital of Connecticut. Jimmy was a fixture at the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend ceremonies for many years through his participation and coordination of the Honor Guard group. He founded the CT Statewide HG as well as the National Honor Guard Commander’s Association. His story below is what inspired him to do what he did for those years and make him the person that he is today. Enjoy the read.
As a rookie in the Memorial Weekend Honor Guard, I was humbled when we were asked to assist at the candle light service in the Basilica of the Daughters of Charity (next door to the National Emergency Training Center) on Saturday night. We weren’t tasked with much, but observed from a distance and took in the events going on before us. Fifteen minutes into the service, I was approached by a representative from the NFFF and was asked to relocate our group of 12 to the campus chapel. The assigned honor guard folks for the chapel either didn’t get the message regarding their assignment or simply didn’t show up. We started to walk over from the Basilica to the chapel when something deep down had me bark out the command, “columns of two!” Soon our group of 12 were 2 columns of six, marching in step onto the NETC campus. No words were spoken, but one could hear and feel the tempo as our feet hit the pavement in lock-step. As we turned the corner, the Honor Guard Memorial Weekend Commander witnessed this uniformed display and was impressed by the professionalism we (the new crew) chose to display.
We were tasked with the responsibility of seating people and handing out programs to returning survivors who would be watching the service on TV. These folks had been through their “first” memorial weekend when they lost their firefighter which could have been the year before or 20 years ago. About 45 minutes into the service, a little girl, maybe 5 years old came strutting to the back of the chapel. “Excuse me sir, could you please tell me where the bathroom is?” I responded to this little wonder, that I’d never set foot in this place but we could find it together. So, off we went together to find the bathroom. I immediately felt responsible for her and couldn’t just leave her there, so I waited until she came out. And I waited, and yes, you guessed it, I waited some more. She finally reappeared and I asked her, “is everything alright?” She replied with this very short but cute, “yup”. I returned her to the back of the chapel where she scurried off to find her seat.
About 40 minutes later, this little wonder reappeared. I asked if everything was alright and she said she needed the bathroom again, and would I please bring her. How could anyone deny such a request? So, off we went again, now the “experienced pair,” to the bathroom. I waited, and I waited and yes, you guessed it, I waited some more. She definitely took her time when going to the bathroom. Not sure if she was just wasting time, but she just had this bubbly personality and air of innocence. She was definitely someone’s precious little girl. I returned her again the rear of the chapel and she disappeared to her seat once again.
At the conclusion of the service, honor guard personnel held the doors open for the survivors as they departed the chapel. I anticipated the need to say goodbye to my new found friend and excitedly waited for her to appear at the rear exit. I was diligent in looking out for her, but she escaped without notice. The doors closed and my heart was heavy. Now how could this be? I watched out for her the entire time. I didn’t know of any other way out, but then again, this was my first time here so how would I have known if there was a back door? I dismissed the honor guard detail from door duty and stood at the bottom of the steps. The guys started talking about going out for the night but I was deep in thought about this little, girl trying to figure out what the heck happened to her.
All of a sudden the doors burst open and there she was. I lit up like a Christmas tree and made a big deal about her presence. She walked to the bottom of the steps where I greeted her and told her I had been waiting for her. I asked her where she had been. You’ll never guess her reply, “In the bathroom, of course!” Ahhh, I should have known. Well, I told her I had been waiting for her because I wanted to present her with a fallen firefighter pin. I got down on one knee and took the fallen firefighter pin off the right lapel of my dress uniform and pinned it onto her dress. I told her what an honor it was to meet her and to have served as her escort during the chapel service. She was very gracious about receiving the pin and simply said “thank you.” I looked up at her mom with tears in her eyes as she whispered to me “thank you so much.” I looked back at this little girl and said my name’s Jimmy, maybe I’ll see you again some time. She introduced herself as Molly. She and her mom disappeared into the evening. I’ve never seen them again.
When people ask me why I am involved in the honor guard, I tell them the story about Molly. Serving the survivors of firefighters is one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had in my life. The honor of serving those who will no longer see their dad or their mom, spouse or sibling, even if just for a moment, is a blessing from God and fills my heart with joy and happiness.