By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
FRISCO — Mary Bush had been told what to look for, but she hoped neither that day nor the people would arrive on her doorstep.
It was Feb. 10, 2009, her son Luke was just 11 days old. At 7:15 that morning, the doorbell rang.. “Who could it be this early?” she thought as she tried to make her way downstairs.
Her husband Chris got to the door first and answered it. From the perch on the second-floor overlooking below, she saw men dressed in military blues of the U.S. Army.
“On behalf of the United States of America,” she remembered them saying, “we are sorry to inform you that your son was killed in the line of duty.”
Her first-born son, U.S. Army Cpl. Peter Courcy, an Army gunner and a few weeks away from returning home, was killed in the mountains of Afghanistan when a car packed with explosives slammed into the vehicle he was in while their convoy was returning to the U.S. compound near Salerno. He was 22.
Before being deployed to Afghanistan, they were told what to expect in case their son was injured or killed.
“If they have a serious injury,” she remembered being told, “they will send someone dressed in normal combat uniform, but if they are killed in the line of duty, two will come—a chaplain and an officer. They will be in dress uniform.”
She then quickly asked, “Do we make flight arrangements so I can go get him because I want him home?”
“The officer said they would bring him home to me.”
It was the ultimate sacrifice for one family in a year that would see several hundred American casualties in the regions.
The next few days would be a blur for the Bush family, now members of Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Plano.
Finding ways to honor her son’s memory and commitment to his country, even while grieving with her personal loss and dealing publicly with the media wanting to know more about Peter, his life as a child, his days as a youth, why he wanted to serve; what was it like burying someone who gave up his life for those who many can’t express gratitude for their service.
Theirs was now a Gold Star family. In her eyes, her son was a hero, but would anybody even care?
Peter John Courcy was born on July 25, 1986, at Fort Hood, Texas, and moved to Frisco when he was in the eighth grade. He liked to play soldiers and loved war movies; he played hockey and eventually became the captain of his hockey team and wrestling team at Frisco High School.
“He was probably one of the most fascinating young men—and I know it probably sounds biased coming from his mother—but he was a child that always loved to have fun,” she said. “He knew no strangers and didn’t have any enemies. He was a magnetic person.
“The one thing that he loved tremendously was America.”
And so it was on Sept. 11, 2001, when he and his mother were glued to the television set, watching footage of the terrorist attacks more than 1,000 miles away in New York and at the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C.
“All he could say was, ‘This is just not right. How can people want to take away the freedoms that we have?’ ’’ she said. “I knew then that he was going to join as soon as he got the opportunity.’’
Courcy graduated in 2004 and wanted to enlist. She resisted, but he persisted.
“Mothers do not want to send their children to war,” she said. “I talked him into going to college for two years but then I remember one day he was sitting down with me and you could see the internal conflict that he was having and he just said, ‘Mom, we can’t send other people’s children off to fight for our freedom if we are not willing to do it ourselves.’And that is when I knew I had to let him do his calling.’’
She gave him her blessing and in July 2006, around his 20th birthday, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. In March 2008, Airborne and Air Assault qualified, he went to Afghanistan.
Chris and Mary Bush decided they would not go on vacation because they needed to be home if he was able to call. Then came Mother’s Day of 2008.
“We had a knock on the door and he had ordered me Mother’s Day flowers and he had them delivered,” she said. “When he called, I said, ‘Thank you Peter so much. I can’t believe you were able to do that.’ He actually had placed that order right before he left to go to Afghanistan.
“He said he just wanted to make sure that I knew that he was thinking of me on Mother’s Day,” she said. “That’s just the type of person Peter was. He was very thoughtful of other people’s feelings. He knew I was stressed.”
They tried to Skype as often as possible and on one such occasion, she was able to see their unit coming under attack. She had to wait 24 hours before getting word that her son and others were OK.
On Jan. 31, 2009, Chris and Mary Bush welcomed the birth of their son, Luke, a miracle they thought after many years of trying to conceive.
They had just been home with the new baby for a few days when that dreaded knocked on the door came.
The day of getting word of their son’s death turned into days of agony, planning for a funeral and just waiting for his body to be returned.
“When we got the news Mary was obviously distraught, so I kind of handled everything,” Chris Bush said. “I was kind of taking care of the details so she could reflect and grieve.
“It’s amazing how many people want to talk to you,” he said. “It is amazing how much information is coming at you. It is amazing how many decisions you have to make. I tried to make those decisions as much as I could.”
Their son’s body arrived on a private plane from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, about a week after his death. After a service at St. Ann Catholic Church in Coppell, the family prepared for the long ride to Peter’s final resting place at U.S. National Cemetery in Dallas.
“I was always told, and I do believe this, if mothers went with their children off to war, there would be no war because the mothers would make sure that we would do every type of diplomacy to make sure our children do not have to suffer.”
Mary Bush’s tears of sadness were soon replaced by tears of subdued joy as the funeral procession moved from suburban streets, through the interstate highways and loops of Dallas that wind toward the national cemetery.
“When his motorcade … was moving all the way to the cemetery they shut down the highways. There were over 100 Patriot Guards on their motorcycles that escorted him and our family. It was about a 10-mile procession.
“Every highway entrance when his was body was moved, was shut down. There was an elementary school that was on the way to the funeral home and they knew that the procession was coming that way. They had the kids outside waving American flags,” she said. “There were people lining the street to support us. There is that saying, ‘gone, but not forgotten’ and that became our reality that day.”
In the days, weeks and years that have ensued, Spc. Peter J. Courcy has not been forgotten.
Several shell casings from the rifles fired at the 21-gun salute at the cemetery were placed in an American flag that draped the body from Afghanistan and was given to Mary Bush after the gravesite ceremony. She keeps those items, along with several of his medals and a presidential coin given to her by former President George W. Bush, at their home.
She wears a silver cross on a silver chain around her neck, the one that her son was wearing when he was killed. Her father wears a St. Michael the Archangel medal that Courcy was wearing. Courcy’s wrestling coach asked for his wrestling shoes that he keeps to motivate young athletes. In the family home, a small table, with a display of photos and other memorabilia, sits in a cordoned off area in their home.
There is a street named after him in Frisco. Courcy has a retired high school hockey jersey at the Dallas Stars Center in Frisco. The Fighting Award and the Braveheart Award at his high school alma mater are named in his honor. An organization for veterans, the American Legion, Peter J. Courcy Post 178 in Frisco, is named in his memory.
The first Christmas following his death, the Bushes learned about Wreaths Across America, a non- profit aimed at placing Christmas wreaths each December at Arlington National Cemetery and more than 1,000 other locations across the country. They discovered that the program was not being carried out at the national cemetery in Dallas, so they got involed.
The first year, they raised enough money for 250 wreaths and about 20 people, mostly family and friends, came to lay them. Last year, more than 25,000 wreaths were donated to the National Cemetery in Dallas and 6,000 volunteers helped place the wreaths. Their goal is to place wreaths on all those who’ve been laid to rest there.
“Most parents leave their legacy to their children, but we were picking up Peter’s legacy,” Mary Bush said. “His legacy, what he always wanted to do was be in the military and he always supported the military. So Chris and I decided that that is what we were going to do with our military.”
And Luke Bush, a fifth-grader at Prince of Peace Catholic School, has been able to participate in the ceremonies and to learn more about his older brother and others who served.
“He has never missed a Wreaths Across America ceremony. For the last several years, he has been the person to lay a wreath on Peter’s grave,” Chris Bush said. “It has really been a tool to have him know his brother and learn about his brother. It is really all three of those principles: Remember. Honor. Teach. ”
Mary Bush said that a few years ago, a Vietnam veteran came up to her at the cemetery.
“He told me how grateful he was that he got to lay a wreath on a friend he lost in Vietnam and that that was the first time he could publicly celebrate that young man’s life,” she said. “I think about that war, and there is a whole generation of ser- vicemen and women who did not get to be celebrated like the American soldier should be celebrated.
“Peter and all our veterans deserve a hero’s welcome, regardless if they are killed in the line of duty or just have a normal passing or they are still currently serving,” she said. “They give so much to our country and they provide our freedoms. It is them that provide the freedom, not our politicians.”
Faith in Him
Mary Bush said that her faith, though tested, has carried her through these several years.
“The good thing that came out of this is that I became a stronger believer in Christ. I realized that he is in control. We were all surprised when Peter was killed, but God was not. He already knew. His plans were going to be made and we just had to trust in Him. And we did, but I will always grieve. I will always miss Peter.
“I know people who think that if I could get any gift it would be for Peter to come back, but it would not be,” she said. “That’s because I know where he is and I would never want to take him from heaven to come and satisfy my heart. I do believe that I will suffer, but I will gladly take this suffering because I know he is with Our Lord. That to me is the greatest gift.
“His death created two mira- cles— the miracle that he went to heaven and it also created the miracle that we, as a family, would be closer to Our Lord. We will continue to strive to do His work. I do believe that it is God’s plan and we have to learn to allow his plan
to come into fruition.”
Part of the miracle, too, she said is that God also knew that her son Peter would complete his mission for God and country, but that He would send another son to be with them.
“He knew that for me I was going to need another child to help with grieving. Luke has been my miracle,” she said. “He has made me continue to want to live and to want to live a good and healthy life—because I want to give him the happy life that Peter had.”
“If I was able to talk to Peter I would tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of him. I’d tell him how influential he has been in my life, not just as a child, but as a person. He has taught me so many things.
“He taught me what true love of country is, what true love of thy neighbor is. I would just want him to hear me tell him how much I love him. I know he knows how much I loved him because it was something we shared every day. So I know he knows how much he meant to us, but it would be nice to be able to tell him one more time:
“I love you, Peter.”