Community Service: Honoring a Hero's Memory

22 Jan 2003 | Capt. Dan McSWeeney

What motivates a man to pursue a life in uniform? The particular blend of reasons varies widely among individuals, but common themes often emerge.Cpl Dennis Macaulay joined the Marines primarily because of his desire to serve his country. He had also grown up listening to his father's stories about serving in the Corps during Vietnam and wanted to share in the sense of camaraderie he heard in them. Probably what sealed the deal, though, was his pronounced desire for adventure.These motivations are powerful, to be sure, but they are also intangible. In Macaulay, they were replaced by more concrete reasons shortly after 9/11, when he discovered how directly and personally the World Trade Center attacks impacted his family and community. This knowledge stimulated a renewed sense of purpose in Macaulay's service as a Marine. It has also provided him an opportunity to honor another man whose life was spent in the service of those around him."I was at the end of my second tour in Okinawa at the time," said Macaulay. "I'd just spoken to my assignment monitor and was expecting some pretty good transfer orders."That changed in the wake of 9/11.Macaulay remembers the day clearly. He saw coverage of the attacks while watching CNN in his barracks and immediately called his parents at home in Levittown, NY, a largely commuter community in Long Island.Reflecting information-age realities, it was his call from the other side of the world that alerted his family to what was happening just 40 miles west of their home. He told them to turn on the television. "The images were bad," he said. "When I saw the second plane hit, I realized we were under attack. Once the initial shock wore off, I began to think about all the people in our town who would be affected."Macaulay kept in close touch with his family over the next few days. On September 12, he heard some particularly disturbing news: His neighbor, Paul Jurgens, was missing at Ground Zero. By the 15th, he was presumed dead."Paul was a former Marine. He was a police officer with the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Police Department," he said. "I'd known him since I was a kid and grew up with his children."Jurgens was on post at Kennedy International Airport on the day of the attacks. Though his vehicle was found near the World Trade Center, his body has never been recovered.Macaulay's father, Kevin, was friends with Jurgens, who lived two doors away. He described Jurgen's career as noteworthy."He served at the PAPD Police Academy and helped evacuate the World Trade Center during the bombing in 1993," said the older Macaulay."He was also instrumental in rescuing 292 passengers from a burning jumbo jet at Kennedy Airport almost ten years ago."His neighbors still miss Jurgens very much, he added.These details converged to alter the course of Cpl Macaulay's career in the Marine Corps. He decided he had to do something personally in response to the attacks. "I knew I had to represent the memory of Paul Jurgens," he said.Many first-term Marines are required to spend a year on Okinawa, but Macaulay went beyond what was asked of him, voluntarily completing two years on "the Rock." Because of this, he would have practically been guaranteed whatever duty station he wanted. Many Marines with such leverage might have chosen a relatively comfortable stateside assignment, but Macaulay decided against that path."When I heard about Paul, I called my monitor and told him I wanted to be transferred to the first possible unit deploying," said Macaulay.He got what he wanted and received orders to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, based at New River Air Station, NC. The squadron was scheduled to deploy with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) in August 2002, barely a year after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. Macauley, a CH-46E helicopter crew chief, was satisfied with the placement and finished up his time in Okinawa. He returned home at the end of September to a community mourning their considerable losses."Local funeral homes were booked solid," he said. In a strange twist of fate, Macaulay attended his sister's wedding after paying his respects at Paul Jurgens' memorial service. Both events occurred in the same church on the same day."I wanted some payback, sure, but I also realized I had to deploy in order to honor Paul. He was a good man, a good father, and a good Marine."The PAPD Benevolent Association heard about Macaulay's plans from Jurgens' wife, Maria. In an arrangement worked out between Mrs. Jurgens and the Association, t-shirts were supplied to the squadron's flight-line Marines, emblazoned with images of the Twin Towers, the American flag, and a PAPD shield.On the back of the shirts, all 37 of the PAPD officers killed during the attacks are listed, along with the words "Never Forget.""We were glad to receive the shirts," said Macaulay. "Most of the Marines working on our helicopters wear them now. I told Mrs. Jurgens to just make sure they were green."Macaulay also received permission to paint an image of the World Trade Center on his aircraft's side armor. The illustration portrays the towers and Jurgens' PAPD shield number: 1048.By sheer coincidence, the commanding officer of the 24th MEU (SOC) had previously established a relationship with the PAPD. Col Richard Mills, a native of Huntington, NY, accepted a PAPD flag during a ceremony in Central Park during Fleet Week 2002 in New York. During that ceremony, he promised to carry the flag with dignity wherever the unit was deployed. So far, the flag has traveled through ten European and Middle Eastern countries."For me, all of this really comes down to representing Paul Jurgens," said Macaulay. "He was a man who put others before himself at home, at work, and in our community and that needs to be commemorated."In that light, Jurgens and Macaulay are connected not only by where they lived and by the tragic events of September 11, but by the fact that each committed himself to serving others. Each pursued different forms of community service.According to Macaulay's father, a legacy has been established."Paul and I would talk about our experiences in the Marine Corps," he said."We also talked about my son enlisting in the Corps and Paul often wondered what would happen if his son, Paul, Jr., ever joined the Marines."Paul Jurgens, Jr. entered Boot Camp at Parris Island, SC on January 15, 2003.When asked if he had any advice for Paul, Jr., Cpl Macaulay kept his comments to the point."Semper Fi, brother," he said."Always Faithful."