HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In 1918, it marked the end of World War I and the beginning of Veterans Day.
It is a day to honor all who served and sacrificed.
“Currently, there are nearly a million veterans living in our commonwealth,” Lt. Governor Mike Stack said Friday. “Our veteran population is the fourth largest in America.”
Stack was one of several speakers at Widener University Commonwealth Law School, where the focus was on one specific veteran: a 1994 graduate named Shane Mahaffee.
“The students all referred to him as Captain America,” recalled Christian Johnson, Widener’s Dean.
Shane wasn’t Captain America, but he was a captain in the United States Army. He was also a lawyer, a son, a brother, a father, and husband.
“He was always full of life and energy,” his wife Jennifer said. “He was crazy Uncle Shane. Everybody loved him. When he walked in the room, it would light up.”
But that light was extinguished in 2006 by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
“Shane had over 5,000 people at his funeral,” Shane’s dad, Skip Mahaffee, said with great pride.
It is often said that freedom isn’t free. The families of the fallen know that awful truth all too well.
“We paid dearly for our freedom and it’s not paid with gold or money. It’s paid with American blood,” Skip said.
Ten years have passed since Shane’s passing. His daughter Adelia is 15. His son Ethan, 12. They were 5 and 2 respectively when their dad died.
Friday was a hopeful one for the family. It’s thrilled that Widener introduced the Shane Mahaffee Scholarship for Excellence. It was excited to meet the first recipient, an Army soldier and lawyer, like the scholarship’s namesake.
A decade later, the family lights up when talking about and remembering Shane. It’s made a concerted effort not to be stuck in sorrow.
“We pledged to seize life with this Shane-like exuberance, and to love with Shane-like extravagance, and to live lives worthy of this fallen hero’s sacrifice,” said Don Willett, Shane’s brother-in-law.
This one family will never forget. But it reminds the rest of us, especially on this day, to always remember.
“There are men and women who sacrifice their lives every day, still, to this day,” Jennifer said. “And I don’t want them ever to be forgotten.”
“As General Patton said, ‘we really shouldn’t grieve that such men died. We should rejoice and be thankful that such men lived,'” Willett said.