TIMONIUM, Md (WMAR) — Memorial Day is a time to honor those who have paid the ultimate price in defense of our country.
Today, Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens will hold a ceremony paying respects to the three service members with Maryland ties who were lost in the last year.
But there’s another person receiving recognition today, who is not in the military.
A senior law enforcement officer who is getting ready to retire is being thanked for his dedication to the gold star families of Maryland.
“I was like ‘I didn’t do nothing’. It’s an honor and a privilege to do this, to be part of it for the families,” said Senior Officer Michael Dunn with the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.
Since 2014, Dunn has coordinated 144 dignified transfers of the remains of fallen heroes at BWI Airport. It takes a lot of organizes to pull off the ceremony, paying respect to the servicemember and their family.
“The planning of these have become easy, but the emotional side that doesn’t,” said Dunn.
One of the families he had an impact on was Conor McDowell’s.
“Here was someone we never knew, never got to thank personally but was instrumental in having Conor and our family have the dignity of his home arrival,” said Conor’s mother Susan Flanigan.
Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Conor always wanted to join the military. The D.C. area native worked his way up to Marine First Lt. stationed in California.
“He wanted to be part of that close knit brother and sisterhood of the Marines,” said Flanigan.
But in May of 2019, he was training on a light armored vehicle when tragedy struck.
“It was an entirely preventable training fiasco,” said his father Michael McDowell.
Range safety failed to identify a huge crater that was hidden by high grass and his vehicle plunged in.
“He saved his gunner by pushing the gunner under the turret but it was too late to save himself and he was killed instantly,” said McDowell.
He was only 24 years old, their only child and set to get married just 5 months later.
Dealing with unimaginable pain, they leaned on the kindness of strangers, like Dunn, who coordinated the dignified transfer ceremony for Conor.
“Everything was done with such precision and honor,” said Flanigan. “I will never forget that Southwest flight coming down on the tarmac through an arch of two fire trucks spraying water over the plane.”
Dunn was instrumental in this ceremony and he also supported the family at his funeral and burial.
“You could tell by his demeanor that it wasn’t just a job. You could tell he really believed in his work,” said Flanigan.
Dunn said not only are the transfers for current military personnel killed, but also remains recently identified because of new technology.
“They are still identifying remains from the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They are still identifying remains from the Vietnam War, the Korean War,” said Dunn.
Dunn will be honored for his dedication Monday as he will retire this summer after 49 years in law enforcement. First with Baltimore City Police and then with the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.
But his job won’t be done. He is going to continue coordinating the transfers on a volunteer basis because it means so much to him.
Conor’s parents are thankful for his continued dedication, on behalf of future Gold Star families too. They know parents in other states who didn’t have anyone to coordinate a dignified transfer for their loved one.
“They felt hurt and disrespected,” said McDowell. “These various rituals do help. They try to get you through the trauma.”
The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. at the Circle of the Immortals monument at the cemetery.