By Matthew Tobia
Published Sunday, August 26, 2012
| From the October 2012 Issue of FireRescue
The battlefields of Gettysburg, Pa., are, arguably, the most hallowed grounds on United States soil. Walking the battlefield at night is as close as you might ever come to actually being with the soldiers who fought and died there.
Tucked in the battlefield property on the southwest edge, near Blackhorse Tavern Road, sits a modest home on a few acres. Driving by, you might not even notice it. But if you stopped and asked for directions, your eyes would immediately be drawn to the sign on the front yard: Marine Barracks, Gettysburg.
Seamus Garrahy is his name, a short-in-stature Irishman with a broad, welcoming smile, firm handshake and bright eyes. Seamus is the commanding officer at the Barracks and is the rarest of rare men. It takes about three minutes in Seamus’ presence to figure out that he has been infused with an unparalleled commitment to serve others.
To understand Seamus’ story, you need a little background. In the 1950s, Seamus served in the Marine Corps, rising to the rank of corporal; he was honorably discharged when his tour was up. He did not serve in combat, and one might not ascribe much importance to his stint in the military were it not for what came afterward.
Jim (that’s his given name) went on to be a successful businessman, owning and operating Jim Garrahy’s Fudge Kitchen, which eventually grew to 78 stores in three countries. But more important than his professional success, Seamus started a military tradition that has touched the lives of thousands.
Seamus loves three things: the United States of America, the Marine Corps and his wife, Linda Bell. For 30 years or so, Seamus has hosted what is known as “Steaks and Beers.” Tens of thousands of people, mostly Marines—and a few of us fortunate firefighters—have reported to Marine Barracks, Gettysburg for Seamus’ food and camaraderie. The menu is always the same: steaks (read: giant slabs of beef) cooked on the grill and generously slathered with Gung Ho sauce, baked beans, fresh bread and ice-cold beer. That’s it. Nothing else is offered, nothing else is asked for and no one ever leaves hungry. The food and, more importantly, the lessons learned there, are free.
It is a place for those who carry the heavy burdens of war to know that they are safe, surrounded by people who unquestioningly appreciate their service and are keenly aware of the irreplaceable value of life itself. It is a place of healing.
After dinner, Seamus gathers those who are interested into his study to talk a bit. He talks about Gettysburg and what happened over the course of three days in July 1863. He talks about patriotism, honor, integrity, duty and service above self. He reminds us that this is the greatest country in the world and we are lucky to be able to call ourselves Americans. He tells us that although we’re not perfect, we must do everything in our power to uphold and protect the defining principles of our country. He shares that which many in the room have experienced firsthand, and others understand only in concept: Our freedom comes at a great price.
Those in the room sit mesmerized and give their full attention. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
It is only after the lesson has concluded that you might look around the room and begin to understand the scope and breadth of the lives Seamus has touched. The photos of every Commandant of the Marine Corps for the past 20 years are on the wall, bearing a personalized message to Seamus. Medal of Honor recipients, distinguished members from every branch of the military, presidents of the United States—all have offered their thanks to this man of simple means.
There is no way to know how many lives Seamus has saved. Wounds too deep to ignore or carry alone have been healed. Relationships and friendships have been forged in this place, as well as promises made to work harder to conduct ourselves in a way that Seamus would approve of.
Reading this, many of you are thinking: I would sincerely like to meet this man, see his home, and enjoy a good meal and the chance to look around. Seamus Garrahy died earlier this year. For those who had the great honor of knowing him, his loss is particularly hard. But his warrior ethos and his commandment to conduct ourselves with humility and integrity will live on forever.
The essence of leadership is based neither on rank nor physical size. Never doubt that you are in a position to change the world and, by virtue of the authority vested in you as a company officer, that you have a responsibility to do so. There are far too many fire officers whose memory is lost in our history. Take this opportunity to ensure yours isn’t.
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