After the agony and the tears and the body “wrapped like a mummy” returned to her from Iraq, what Denise Anderson wanted most was closure.
Anderson best remembers her son, Spc. Corey Shea, sitting next to her on their front porch in Mansfield, Mass., talking into the wee hours of his last night on leave. He can no longer come home to the porch but, as Anderson puts it, when her days are over she wants to come home to him.
“I don’t think I was asking for that much,” Anderson said, speaking by phone from Mansfield. But it would take an act of Congress to get her what she wanted.
The director of the Bourne National Veterans’ Cemetery in Massachusetts, where Shea was laid to rest, had bad news. He told her that the law prohibited anyone other than servicemen and women, their spouses, or their young children from being buried there.
But Shea was never married and had no children. Anderson protested, determined to secure for herself a plot next to the son she refers to as “my Corey.” She was tireless. She began a letter-writing campaign, beginning with then-Sen. Edward Kennedy, which expanded to every member of Congress.
It turns out Congress didn’t think Anderson was asking for that much either.
Once Anderson’s story reached her congressman, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., the “Corey Shea Act” moved right along. The bill, which allowed the burial of parents next to unwed children in military cemeteries, passed in the House by an overwhelming 382-2 vote in November of 2009, just a few weeks shy of the anniversary of Shea’s death, and the Senate version was approved in September 2010.
Shea is the first soldier from the town of Mansfield to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the town embraced him as a hero. Each student from his old high school contributed $1 toward his memorial. Last weekend, the town of Mansfield dedicated the memorial and a flagpole in Shea’s honor. Rep. Frank was the host. The whole town came out, Anderson said, and presented her with a Medal of Liberty.
Anderson’s victory is one for all parents of deceased soldiers, but no amount of closure can close wounds like these. She still visits the burial site of her son—and one day her own—and talks to him and the two soldiers buried to his left. She calls them the three brothers.
“These kids are too young, and they’ve been over there too long,” Shea said.
She brings a pair of scissors each time she visits the cemetery. With the meticulous eye she says she once used to clean her son’s messy room, she now trims the grass around his gravestone -- if only to give her something to do, and maybe a little closure.