In a few weeks, Americans of all sorts will be celebrating the traditional Memorial Day weekend. And in between family BBQs and trips to the beach, many of them will attend ceremonies or parades that honor those who have died while serving in the military for the United States of America.
One of them will be Chestertown’s Michael McDowell. With long ties to the military, the Irish-born retiree quickly connects to America’s servicemen and women when reporting for the CBC, being a scholar at Harvard, or while serving The Citadel’s board of directors. His enthusiasm was so positive that he nor his wife, Susan, thought twice about their son attending a military academy nor a future career as a Marines.
But Memorial Day has meant something entirely different for the McDowells since they received word that their son, Conor, their only child, was killed in an planned military exercise accident in California two years ago this month.
Conor, who had only recently graduated from college, was training in an armored vehicle with several others when it unexpectedly fell and rolled into a exceptionally large crevasse in the practice zone.
It is impossible to comprehend the loss of this magnitude on any parent, but for Michael, the pain was so much more intense once he discovered that Conor’s death could have been entirely avoidable.
After flying out to California to comfort Conor’s fiancé and meet with officers about the tragedy, a simple Google search told the veteran journalist that his son’s accident was just one of a long pattern where men and women were dying during similar rollover accidents.
That search result was all that was needed for the McDowell family to transition from profound grief and turn it into a campaign. Using long established Washington contacts and the support of the Maryland delegation in Congress, the McDowells did something that is rarely done in the federal government; as private citizens they convinced the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch an independent review of military training and oversight. The GAO will release that study and its recommendations to Capitol Hill next month.
The Spy talked to Michael at his home in Chestertown last week about this painful journey and the special mission of truly memorializing his son Conor.
This video is approximately six minutes in length.