Cornell Winston Gilmore
Command Sergeant Major, United States Army
Donna Gilmore (left) congratulates Timberline High School senior Stacie
McAferty, 17, on receiving a college scholarship from Phyllis Thompson (center) of
Benedict College during a college recruitment event at the high school Friday, 6 February 2004.
Donna Gilmore returned to her former home this week, three months after her husband's death in Iraq, to continue their mission to enroll more students of color in college.
Her husband of 21 years, Command Sergeant Major Cornell Gilmore, was one of six soldiers killed when the Black Hawk helicopter they were flying in was struck by enemy fire and crashed near Tikrit on November 7, 2003.
The family left Lacey in June 2002 so Gilmore could accept a promotion as the top enlisted legal adviser in the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps.
But while living in Lacey, the couple got involved in the Thurston Group of Washington State as their children, Cornell II and Dawnita, flourished at Timberline High School.
The Thurston Group works to secure college admission and scholarships for students at historically black colleges and Washington public and private universities.
Despite her still-raw emotions, Donna Gilmore said she made the brief trip because her late husband would have wanted it that way and because she can't spend her days in grieving inactivity.
"I had a lot of different seasons in my life," she said Friday. "I was a single woman. I was a wife. I was a mother. And now I'm a widow."
"And those seasons come; they come to all of us," she said. "I didn't think I was going to be a widow at 43, but I am. So I've got to take what I have, take that lemon and make lemonade."
Her faith in God and belief that he has a plan for her life, along with the foundation of their marriage and family, serve as her buttress after his death, she said.
She knows he's in a better place, a destination she described as "his permanent duty station, to speak in military terms."
"That's why I can sit here right now and not be a bucket of tears," she said. "That's the only reason."
Gilmore made a bittersweet return to Timberline High School, where she was voted Parent of the Year in 2000, to chat with students about the Thurston Group during a recruitment visit. The group will cap off its weeklong visits to area high schools with a tribute for her husband tonight at Saint Martin's College.
In the community
In addition to their work with the Thurston Group, the couple played a prominent role at Grace Chapel on Fort Lewis.
They counseled married couples, and Cornell Gilmore, who loved music and signing, led the men's choir.
While in Lacey, Dawnita was an honor student and on the high school dance team. Cornell II was selected to the All-State Choir in 2000 and was tapped for the lead role in a Timberline Theatre Co. production of "Fiddler on the Roof." She attends Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C. He is at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C.
Donna Gilmore said she has no regrets about Cornell's military service, saying he died doing what he loved.
His death hasn't swayed her opinion of the military or Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"I have a hard time denouncing the war without denouncing the people who are fighting in the war," she said. "And anybody in the military feels the same way. We love the men and women of the military, so how can I go against that? They're my family."
She characterized Fort Lewis as the family's final duty station.
"The Pentagon is not a duty station; it's an event," she said. "When you say 'duty station' in the military, that's a family environment. It's a place where you're nurtured and you nurture others. So it was really difficult to come back here. We had a lot of great memories."
Larry Jenkins, Thurston Group's founder, said Cornell Gilmore's death was a big emotional loss for the organization. After the move, Cornell kept tabs on the group's work and assisted with plans to start a third group on the East Coast.
"Even in Virginia, he was still working on our behalf, communicating back and forth on what to do and how to do it," he said.
The Gilmores' son returned to Lacey in December to attend the 20-year alumni reunion of the Timberline theater department, said Brenda Amburgy, the school's drama teacher.
Cornell Gilmore was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He received the Distinguished Service Medal and Purple Heart posthumously.
In her purse, Donna Gilmore keeps pictures of her husband, their children and the couple's wedding picture to provide solace in his absence. She still counts the days since his death. Friday was Day 82.
"I have that void when I go to church because I look up there at the piano and he's not sitting there. I have that void when I work as a counselor for married couples. I have that void when I go up I-95 in D.C. ... and see the Pentagon.
"I'm going to have those voids. And during
those times ... I look at his picture and say, 'OK, I understand the mission.'
Army Command Sergeant Major Cornell W. Gilmore was in a Black Hawk helicopter that went down after being struck by enemy fire November 7, 2003, in Tikrit, Iraq, killing all six soldiers aboard. But Gilmore didn't suffer, according to the Rev. Clarence Hill.
"Don't fool yourself," Hill told mourners gathered yesterday for Gilmore's burial at Arlington National Cemetery. He pointed toward heaven. "When the helicopter went down, he went up."
A chorus of a thousand "amens" rang out in memory of the Stafford man who touched the lives of not just his immediate family but also those in the extended families of his church and the military.
Gilmore, 45, was born in Baltimore and grew up in the city's Cherry Hill area. He graduated from the University of Maryland in Baltimore and entered the military in 1981. Those who knew him say Gilmore was a man tall in stature and vast in humility, known for his thousand-watt smile and favorite phrases -- especially his warm salutation: "Greetings. How are you?"
When Gilmore headed to Iraq, he was determined to boost the morale of soldiers in harm's way by showing them how much they were appreciated. As a legal specialist for the Judge Advocate General's Office, Gilmore was in charge of about 3,000 paralegals, both active duty and reserve. He oversaw training and served as a support system for soldiers joining the JAG Corps.
Major General Thomas J. Romig, the Judge Advocate General, said Gilmore's loss has left an irreparable hole in the JAG Corps. "He loved soldiers, and you could tell that," said Romig, who personally selected Gilmore to serve as a chief adviser almost two years ago.
Romig said he had held high expectations for the highly recommended soldier -- expectations that Gilmore surpassed. "I knew he was the best, but I didn't know how good he was," he said.
Master Sergeant Cyrus Netter, 36, recalled first meeting Gilmore 11 years ago and looking up to the senior soldier as a mentor. As the years passed, the two men developed a bond as they traveled around the world together on assignments. They teased each other about their devotion to their wives -- and about who was really in charge in their households. They shared the experience of having sons enrolled as college freshmen. And most important to Netter, they talked about their Christian faith and the meaning of Jesus in their lives. "He taught a lot of things to me," Netter said.
Hill shepherded Gilmore spiritually while the soldier was stationed in Germany, helping him in his decision to dedicate his life to Christ. It was a dedication that would inspire Gilmore as he and his family moved around the world and he rose up the ranks. Wherever he went, Gilmore would express his love for God through the ministry of music.
"He built the music department," said George B. Quick, pastor of Shiloh Christian Church in Stafford, where more than 1,000 people gathered Thursday to celebrate Gilmore's life. Quick remembered the patience Gilmore would show choir members when they hit wrong notes. "He would hug them and tell them to keep singing," he said.
Gilmore also played the organ and several types of guitar.
"If Cornell's death brings someone closer to God, then glory be to God, he would have said," said Donna Gilmore, his wife of 21 years, who is left with two college-age children. "He woke up in the morning happy about life."
Sergeant Major Howard Metcalf, now retired, met Gilmore in 1992 when Gilmore drove from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to Alexandria to discuss a proposed assignment to Korea. Metcalf was so moved by Gilmore's devotion to his family that he changed the assignment to Germany, where Gilmore could take his loved ones.
Metcalf said that despite the tears shed at the funeral, Gilmore's family and friends were consoled by their faith that God had sent Gilmore for a purpose and had called him back. "He came down here to touch everybody's life, and then he came home," Metcalf said.
Gilmore's friends and loved ones, in describing the outpouring of love and admiration at his funeral, recalled another of his trademark expressions: "Outstanding."
A Sea of Uniforms and Tears
At Arlington, JAG Officer and Military Strategist Are Praised for Dedication
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
One of the highest-ranking casualties of the Iraq war, Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. "Chad" Buehring, was buried at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, in a somber conclusion to the October 26, 2003, rocket attack on the al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad.
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, who had been staying at the hotel at the time of the attack, attended the ceremony.
About two hours later, Chief Warrant Officer Sharon T. Swartworth, a high-ranking official from the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps, also was laid to rest, becoming the 38th casualty of the Iraq war to be buried at Arlington. The Black Hawk helicopter in which she had been a passenger was shot down November 7, 2003, near Tikrit.
Hundreds of mourners attended the ceremonies.
Buehring, 40, of Winter Springs, Florida, had been serving as a special adviser to the top U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer. He was married and the father of two boys, Nick, 12, and Drew, 9.
"He was one of our best and brightest unconventional strategists," Lieutenant Colonel James "Bo" Merchant, Buehring's commanding officer and Citadel classmate, said in an interview last week. "He fully believed in what we were doing in Iraq. He felt that the harder he worked, the sooner life would be better for the Iraqi people."
Buehring pursued the military's physical and intellectual challenges, working in Special Forces and psychological operations, Merchant said. In addition to his service in Iraq, he had experience in Bosnia and in Somalia as "an A-team leader."
In Iraq, Buehring worked to prevent the destruction of oil fields in the south. He also worked with the Iraqi media to publicize the coalition's efforts to improve the quality of life in Iraq, Merchant said.
"He was the epitome of the Special Forces warrior," Merchant said. "The complete package."
Buehring, a longtime resident of Fayetteville, North Carolina, had recently moved with his family to his boyhood home in Winter Springs. Memorial services have been held in both communities.
Friends noted that in addition to his military duties, he was dedicated to the Boy Scouts and his church. His pastor in Fayetteville, the Rev. Ben West, remembered him in church typically sporting a Looney Tunes tie and wrapping an arm around his wife.
"His job would often take him away," West said in an interview. "I'm not sure where. Down here, you learn not to ask."
Former classmates and teachers remembered a lanky cross-country runner with high ambitions. "He loved his country and always wanted to save the world from oppression," said Carol Denicole, Buehring's math teacher at Trinity Preparatory School in the Orlando area. "His personal motto was, 'The sky's the limit.' "
Reflecting a shift in policy, cemetery officials kept reporters out of earshot of the graveside services.
At Swartworth's funeral, a sea of dark green Army uniforms surrounded the graveside and flowed down the cemetery's long road. Men and women in dark dress Navy uniforms peppered the crowd as well; Swartworth's husband, William, is a Navy Captain stationed in Hawaii. Near him stood the couple's 8-year-old son, William III. Swartworth was posthumously given the Distinguished Service Medal during the ceremony.
Swartworth, 43, was the JAG Corps' top warrant officer. She was killed along with Command Sergeant Major Cornell W. Gilmore, the corps' top enlisted man, while visiting some of the 400 JAG Corps soldiers stationed in Iraq. Four members of the 101st Airborne Division also were killed in the crash.
Swartworth and Gilmore had traveled the world on similar trips with Major General Thomas J. Romig, the judge advocate general, guiding and boosting the morale of the soldiers responsible for administering military justice.
"She loved getting out with soldiers in the field," Romig said before the ceremony. "It's mandated by law that we do these visits, but she always wanted to be there."
Swartworth lived in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County for a decade before her family's recent move to Hawaii. She was keeping an Arlington apartment so she could continue with her job at the Pentagon. Her father said she planned to retire from the Army soon and rejoin civilian life.
A 26-year veteran of the Army, Swartworth rose steadily through its ranks. She enlisted after high school and later was chosen to become a warrant officer, which put her in a special class of soldiers between enlisted personnel and commissioned officers.
In 1999, she became the corps' top warrant officer, overseeing the efforts of dozens of legal administrators in offices around the world. Romig said her long career was an inspiration to soldiers, especially young women.
"She was an example of a person who had pulled herself up by her bootstraps and made herself a success," he said.
Romig said he will keep a picture of Swartworth taken in Baghdad, standing all of 5 feet 2 inches tall, staring up at burly soldier during his reenlistment ceremony.
"She's standing next to this giant of a guy," he said. "Sharon's looking at him, and they're both just beaming."
Colleagues stressed Swartworth's professionalism in modernizing JAG offices around the world. She brought computer automation to far-flung legal offices and helped the corps' warrant officers join civilian associations for legal administrators.
She pulled JAG administration into the computer age with the same dogged determination that she applied to long-distance running, a favorite hobby, said Jose Robertson, who served with Swartworth for more than a dozen years and now works with the JAG Corps as a civilian.
"She was a soldier. That's the most important
thing," he said. "This was a skilled administrator, a skilled people person,
but most importantly, she was a soldier."
Army Command Sergeant Major Cornell W. Gilmore, who grew up in Maryland and lived in Virginia, and was devoted to the Army and to his church, was killed in action in Iraq on Friday, the Pentagon announced.
Gilmore, 45, was assigned to Army headquarters in the Pentagon. He was one of two members of a top-level delegation from the Army's Judge Advocate General's Corps who were killed in Tikrit when a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter went down.
A relative who said she was speaking for Gilmore's wife, Donna, said last night that he was "a soldier for the country and a soldier for the Lord."
Speaking by telephone from Gilmore's home in Stafford, Sandy Gilmore, a sister-in-law of Gilmore's, said the 22-year Army veteran "had a special relationship with the Lord."
She said he was minister of music at Shiloh Christian Church, leading the choir and playing the organ, an assignment he shared with his son, Cornell Gilmore II. Both the son, 18, and a daughter, Dawnita, 19, attend college in North Carolina.
The Judge Advocate General's Corps deals with legal matters. Gilmore was the top enlisted man in the corps; the organization's top warrant officer, Sharon T. Swartworth, who until recently had lived in Fairfax County, also was killed when the helicopter went down. Friends and relatives have said their mission involved morale building.
It was a task well suited to Gilmore, who, according to his sister-in-law, had a special gift for raising people's spirits.
"It's just the way he made people feel when you met him," Sandy Gilmore said.
She said his first words in an encounter were, "Greetings! How are you?" It was no perfunctory ritual for him, she said, but a question he really meant. Through his obvious concern, she said, "he won your heart."
He was a high-spirited, athletic man who led a full life, she said. "Whenever you saw him, he always smiled."
Gilmore was born in Baltimore and graduated from the University of Maryland in 1980 with a degree in sociology and a minor in criminal justice, according to Army data.
He joined the Army the year after graduation, and once he did, "he loved it," his sister-in-law said.
According to the Army, successive postings took him from Fort Polk, Louisiana; to Buedingen, Germany; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; Nuremberg, Germany; Wuerzberg, Germany; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; and Fort Lewis, Washington.
His many decorations included the Bronze Star, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Achievement Medal and the Kuwait Liberation Medal. He had received several decorations three or four times.
Gilmore was the youngest of 12 children of a religious family, Sandy Gilmore said. He and his wife had both grown up in Baltimore's Cherry Hill section, and they had been married for more than 20 years, the sister-in-law said. She said Gilmore's father died two years ago, but his mother, Louise Gilmore, lives in Randallstown, Maryland.
In a news release distributed on Sunday, the Pentagon said the helicopter carrying Gilmore, Swartworth and four other soldiers was shot down by "unknown enemy ordnance." All six were killed. Some accounts have indicated that the ordnance was a rocket-propelled grenade. The Pentagon said that the incident is under investigation.
Sandy Gilmore said her brother-in-law had been
in Iraq less than a week and was heading back home when the helicopter
went down. "He will truly be missed," she said.
GILMORE, CORNELL WINSTON, SGM, US ARMY, 45
Of Stafford, Virginia, died Friday, November 7, 2003, in Tikrit, Iraq.
Friends may call from 6 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 13 at Shiloh Christian Church, 12 Shiloh Way, Stafford, Virginia, where funeral services will begin at 7 p.m.
Interment Arlington National Cemetery
As mourners look on, Gilmore's coffin is carried to its resting place. "If Cornell's death brings someone closer to God, then glory be to God, he would have said," said Donna Gilmore, his wife of 21 years.
Photo Courtesy of the Washington Post, 2003
GILMORE, CORNELL WINSTON
SGM US ARMY
DATE OF BIRTH: 12/08/1957
DATE OF DEATH: 11/07/2003
BURIED AT: SECTION 60 SITE 8131
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Photo By Michael Robert Patterson, May 2008
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 22 April 2004