TOPSHAM, Maine — The last time Ellen Garver saw her son, Corey Garver, he was about to walk out the door to head off on an Army deployment to Afghanistan.
“He turned around to me and said, ‘Mom, if anything should happen to me, I’m just going to thank God for my life. I love my life, and I thank God that I get to serve my country,” Ellen Garver said Saturday.
She told him, “‘Corey, you have become the man I always knew you would be.’ And that was our last parting.”
Corey Edwin Garver of Topsham was killed June 23, 2013, at age 26, after enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
He attended Mt. Ararat High School from 2004-2006 and joined the Army in June 2007. He earned several awards for valor and distinguished services, including two Army commendation medals, the Army Achievement medal, two Army Good Conduct medals, the National Defense Service Medal, to Afghanistan Campaign medals and the Global war on Terrorism Service Medal.
His mother always knew when he was a little boy who wouldn’t be the bad guy playing cops and robbers, that Corey would be a soldier.
On Saturday, Ellen Garver spoke about her son at Topsham’s American Legion Memorial Post 202 on Foreside Road, which marked its 50th anniversary by renaming the post in honor of her son. It is the first American Legion post in Maine to be named after a fallen hero in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The hall was packed Saturday with Corey’s friends and family, fellow soldiers, members of the Legion, Legion officers, and other officials.
C.J. Dirago spoke about his friend and classmate who grew up just down the road from the Legion hall.
“I can’t think of Corey now without thinking of Sgt. Garver,” Dirago said. “I watched Corey turn his life around. The kid I remember became a man whose service defined him. The Army gave Corey purpose. When I think of Corey, I think of a life well-lived.”
“Corey is not here because he died fighting for those too weak to fight for themselves. What constitutes a life well-lived and honorably lost is not just a victory in war but integrity in the struggle — the courage to take up arms in pursuit of something bigger,” Dirago added. “In remembering Corey, may we ask ourselves for what will we sacrifice? For what will we struggle? What shall we pursue?”
Anthony Jordan, a past national commander for the American Legion, said by changing the post’s name with the rededication, “now the cornerstone in there; the foundation is there and it’s permanent. It makes a difference… I just think this post has been revitalized by doing this.”
“By rededicating this post in honor of Sgt. Corey Garver, the American Legion Post 202 acknowledges the sacrifice of a new generation of Americans,” said Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, who also served in Afghanistan. “Through their dedication to serving each other and this community, Corey lives on in this community every day, just as he lives on in the hearts of those who served alongside him and in the love of his family.”
Garver said her son went into the Army and was selected out of 200 men to be on a special reconnaissance team, “and he loved it. He hated being in the barracks.”
Her son was in the northeast corner of Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, Garver said, when his unit got called to go catch a high-level Taliban leader in a town.
On the return trip, Garver said, the minesweeper hit a land mine and some of the men were hurt badly.
“They started taking fire by the insurgents. Corey took his men and went out and killed the insurgents and secured a pad for the Black Hawk helicopters to be able to come in and take the wounded out of there,” she said. “He pulled eight men out of that truck.”
After the wounded men were loaded in the helicopters, the unit was ordered back to home base, Garver said, “and on his way back to his vehicle Corey found the last IED buried under the side of the road. He must have stepped off the edge of the road.”
The blast killed him.
“I died a thousand deaths when my son died,” she said. “I swore to my Heavenly Father that I would live; that I would live a full life; that I would remember him and I would thank him daily to have the opportunity to have freedom, and that I would make him proud of the way I live my life. “And that’s what I try to do with all my heart in honor of my son.”
She was told by other members of his unit that they learned about responsibility and dedication from Corey. His first lieutenant remembers giving a bottle of water to a red-faced, sweaty Corey who took it and passed it to one of his men. That was the man her son had become.
“So all you parents or parents-to-be, never, never, never give up on your kids. Never. Sometimes their little naughtiness ends up being a great asset when they get it steered in the right direction,” Garver said. “Teach them to love their country… I look at that beautiful flag now and I don’t just see the 50 stars like I used to. I see my son’s blood and the blood of many women and men who have given their lives in honor of that flag and I am so proud of my son for the brave soldier that he became.”