House Chamber, Washington, D.C. October 20, 2009. Mr. Speaker: This bill names the Post Office in Portola, California in honor of Army Specialist Jeremiah Paul McCleery, who grew up in that town, and who returned to it as a fallen hero at the age of 24.
His best friend was his father, Joe. A high school friend, Josh Rodgers was asked when Jeremiah was happiest. He replied, “Whenever he was doing anything with his dad.” When Jeremiah was four years old, his Dad took him to Twentynine Palms to welcome the triumphant return of American soldiers from the first Gulf War. As Shakespeare wrote, “This story shall the good man teach his son.”
It was from that moment in 1991 that Jeremiah wanted more than anything to serve his country.
Joe and Collette McCleery moved their family to the little town of Portola in 1996, where they built their home themselves – as a family. And it was in Portola where Miah McCleery grew up.
If you want a sense of the character of this young man, just spend a few minutes with those who knew him.
His older sister Lynette Flanagan tells of how Miah would take on much older bullies at school – not in his own defense, but in defense of others. She said “He once got sent to the principal's office for getting into a fight. When my mother arrived at school, Jeremiah was not sorry for his actions. He explained with pride that he stood up to a bully who had slapped a little girl. Jeremiah was never afraid to stand up for what he believed in, even if that would get him in trouble. It didn't matter if a bully was twice his size- he wouldn't back down.”
Jeremiah was a Boy Scout, he joined the Civil Air Patrol and planned to enlist in the Army as soon as he graduated from Portola High School in 2004.
But that year his mother, Collette, was diagnosed with cancer. He stayed until she died. Then in 2007, he enlisted.
When his sister, Chastity, begged him not to go, he said that he felt by going into the military, he was protecting his family.
He was an exemplary soldier who commanded the friendship and respect of his colleagues. While at Fort Hood, he became close friends with another Californian, Jake Velloza, and they shipped out to Iraq together.
He had fallen in love with Amanda Harazin while stationed at Fort Hood. Amanda is known as “A-J” to her friends, but Jeremiah called her the “Love of his life.” They were to have been married on May 30th.
But on May 2nd, outside of Mosul, Iraq, at a Combat Outpost in Hammam Alil, American soldiers were attacked by two gunmen wearing Iraqi Police uniforms. Two U.S. soldiers – Jeremiah McCleery and his best friend, Jake Velloza -- were killed in that attack and three others were wounded.
On May 14th – the day before he was supposed to return to a happy homecoming and impending marriage – Jeremiah McCleery returned to his hometown to be buried beside his mother. The local paper described the scene with these words, which speak volumes about the community which helped to mold this American hero:
“Across the Sierra Valley people lined the highway, some with their hands over their hearts as a mark of respect. In Portola, streets were lined with flag-waving citizens. Shop owners left their stores to join in, temporarily suspending business as usual.”
M. Speaker, I wanted to share a little of what I’ve learned about Jeremiah McCleery, because it helps to answer the question that James Michener first asked: “Where do we get such men?”
We get them from the heart and soul of America. From good and decent families like the McCleerys. We get them from little towns like Portola, California.
Over the summer, I had the honor to visit the men and women who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The painstaking care and the meticulous precision with which these young men and women discharge their duties – in withering heat and in freezing cold – 24 hours a day – is legendary.
I asked them why they do it. And one of them told me, “We do it to tell our country that we will never forget.”
For that reason I bring this bill to the House today, with the unanimous support of the Portola City Council, and the entire California Congressional Delegation and the community that watched Jeremiah McCleery grow from a boy to a man and ultimately to return as a hero. We ask that the Congress name the local post office in honor of Army Specialist Jeremiah Paul McCleery, to tell our countrymen that we will never forget.
And also to express our awe and gratitude that humanity has within itself a small band of brothers like Jeremiah McCleery who step forward not for treasure or profit nor even to defend their own freedom, but rather to win the freedom of a people half a world away. And they do it because their country asks them and because it is virtuous and noble.
We owe these men and their grieving families a debt that we can never repay, except to honor their memory and keep their sacrifice always in mind – those who gave up everything “To proclaim liberty throughout all the land, and unto all the inhabitants thereof.”