By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A mother whose son was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan while serving in the US Marines came to a Bay Ridge Catholic school Friday morning to tell students about her child and to urge the kids to proudly fly the American flag on Memorial Day.
Julie Schrock, of Lone Tree Colorado, who was in Brooklyn to serve as one of the grand marshals in the Kings County Memorial Day Parade, visited Saint Anselm Catholic Academy on 83rd Street, where she told a group of students how she is coping with the loss of her son.
Her son, Marine Cpl. Max Donahue, died in Afghanistan in 2010. “We miss Max very much,” Schrock told the students. “I’m so proud of who he was and what he was doing. He was serving his country.”
Schrock is a member of Gold Star Mothers Inc., a group of women from around the country who lost sons or daughters in wars.
Donahue, who joined the Marines right out of high school, was part of a unit of dog handlers whose specially trained dogs sniffed out roadside bombs. On Aug. 4, 2010, Donahue’s dog Benji found a bomb, but while Donahue stood guard over the device to make sure no one stepped on it, it exploded. He was 23 years old. Schrock explained to the students that the improvised explosive device (IED) had been set off by remote control. She comforts herself with the knowledge her son was killed instantly and didn’t go through an extended period of pain and suffering.
Another thing that comforts her is her knowledge that her son had a deep religious faith, she said. “Max assured me of his faith. Before he left to go overseas, we went for a drive,” she said, adding that during the car ride she asked Max if he believed that Jesus Christ was his savior. He told his mother that he did. “I’m glad we had that conversation,” she told the Catholic school students.
Donahue was in the eighth grade when the Sept. 11 attacks took place in 2001 and Schrock said she believes it was a factor in his decision to join the military.
At one point, Schrock asked how many of the students had relatives currently serving in the military. Several hands went up. The Gold Star mother urged everyone to remember that the real reason for the Memorial Day holiday is to pay tribute to those who were killed in America’s wars. She called on everyone to proudly fly the American flag on Memorial Day. “Make it part of your Memorial Day festivities,” she told the students.
The St. Anselm students also heard from another woman who had suffered a great loss in wartime.
Maria Samaniego, of North Arlington, New Jersey, whose boyfriend, Marine Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca, was killed in Afghanistan in 2012, had accompanied his mother, Miriam Montes De Oca, to St. Anselm’s on Friday. She was asked to speak to the students.
“It’s very hard,” she said, talking about how she copes with the loss of her boyfriend. They had known each other since high school.
Montes De Oca, an infantryman, was killed in a firefight. “Two months after he was deployed, he passed away,” Samaniego told the students.
Looking back, she said her boyfriend tried to prepare her for the worst. During one of their many Skype conversations during his deployment to Afghanistan, he told her there was a possibility he would be killed. “Just stay strong and let my mother know I loved her,” he told her.
When she learned that Montes De Oca was killed, “I was in denial for a while,” she said. She kept imagining that it wasn’t true and that he was really on some secret mission somewhere. It wasn’t until his remains were returned to the US and she saw him lying in a casket that she finally came to terms with the fact that he was dead. “You don’t think about it until it hits you,” she told the students.
Montes De Oca was 20 years old when he died.
One of the students asked Samaniego if she had ever tried to stop her boyfriend from joining the military. “You can’t do that to a Marine,” she said.
She comforts herself by staying close to Montes De Oca’s family. “His brothers are like my brothers now,” she said.
Like Schrock, Miriam Montes De Oca is a member of the Gold Star mothers group.
The American Gold Star Mothers Inc. was http://www.goldstarmoms.com/ formed after World War I to provide support for mothers who lost sons or daughters in the war. The name came from the custom of families of servicemen of hanging a banner called a Service Flag in the window of their homes. The Service Flag had a star for each family member in the US armed forces. Living servicemen were represented by a blue star, and those who had lost their lives were represented by a gold star.
Membership in the American Gold Star Mothers Inc. is open to any American woman who has lost a son or daughter in service to the US.
James McKeon, principal of St. Anselm Catholic Academy, is a US Marine. He talked to the students about the importance of the word “service,” as in “service to our country.”
The students can serve, he said, by being kind to one another, having a strong faith, and by praying for those whose lives have been lost in war, he said.