DEPTFORD – U.S. Army Capt. Jonathan Harmeling remembered the time he and his roommate Salvatore Corma II were studying at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Both were exhausted, Harmeling said, after a long, tough day.
“And it was after 3 in the morning, and we had inspections the next day, but I hadn’t shined my boots. I said to Sal, ‘I have to get at least a couple of hours sleep; I’ll just get yelled at in the morning.'”
Harmeling went to bed, but Corma said he was going to stay up to study a bit longer. When Harmeling woke, his boots were shined — Corma stayed awake to keep his friend from getting into trouble with their superiors.
“It seems like a little thing,” Harmeling said. “But that’s who Sal was.”
Harmeling, now the prestigious military academy’s acquisitions officer, made the long drive from New York to Deptford as the post office here was dedicated Monday in memory of Corma, a Gloucester County native killed in Afghanistan in 2010 after waving his men away from an improvised explosive device.
Though he was recovering from back surgery and facing the prospect of six long, uncomfortable hours in a car, Harmeling knew he had to come.
“You can’t put a price on being here for Trudy,” he said, referring to Sal’s mother.
Sharing stories both funny and poignant, Corma’s mother recalled her son’s love of karate, his dedication to his fellow soldiers and his singular focus on the mission that ultimately took his life.
HONORING THE FALLEN: St. Augustine remembers those who gave all
Before the ceremony, Trudy Corma was greeted by a steady stream of well-wishers: students from her son’s alma maters, St. Margaret School and St. Augustine Preparatory School; Knights of Columbus; uniformed soldiers and veterans; friends; family; and fellow Gold Star families.
She admitted to mixed emotions as the crowd grew.
“There are so many people here,” she marveled. “Everyone knew him. He touched their lives, and all of them touched his life, too.”
Looking toward the St. Augustine Prep students as they prepared their instruments for a rendition of “God Bless America,” she added, “It’s wonderful for the younger generation to have a real hero.”
The 24-year-old Corma was serving with the Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and is credited with saving as many as 19 fellow soldiers when he was killed.
“I lost one son that day,” his mother said. “But I gained 19 more. They call me and it makes me feel to good to know they remember me.”
In his convocation, Father Joseph Szolack of Our Lady of Hope noted the post office would serve a new purpose.
“May all who see (Corma’s) name upon this building be reminded that we are all called to serve,” he said.
Though Corma was originally set to go to Korea, his mother recalled, he surprised her and his father by telling them he asked to go instead to Afghanistan, an active war zone, to be on the front lines.
Harmeling, his West Point roommate, said he wasn’t surprised at all.
“That was who he was. I knew he’d be on the first plane to Afghanistan, and get there as fast as he could. He loved everything Army. And that was one of the most challenging units — it was where a lot of the best guys went.”