DALLAS TWP. — Matthew R. Roberts approached the Dallas School Board in November about creating a memorial to First Lt. Michael J. Cleary and all veterans on campus.
The project would serve as the Dallas High School junior’s Eagle Scout project but also as a permanent monument to pay tribute to all Dallas School District military veterans and provide a lesson in the loss of a loved one.
“I wanted to honor Michael Cleary and all veterans,” he said.
Six months later, Roberts will unveil his solemn memorial at a dedication ceremony at noon May 28. The 1st Lt. Michael J. Cleary Veterans Memorial, located near the tennis courts by the Dallas Middle School, consists of a landscaped area with a stone wall to provide natural seating, a flagpole with a solar light on top and a memorial plaque.
Roberts worked with Dallas School District Superintendent Thomas Duffy, Ryan Kennedy of Alloy 5, the district’s contractor who is building the new intermediate school, and Joey’s Landcare in Shavertown to create a simple but poignant monument to honor those who served to protect the United States.
“The Luzerne Foundation made a donation to create the memorial,” Roberts said.
The American flag will be hoisted on the new flag pole for the first time on Memorial Day.
Attendees will hear a short sermon by the Rev. Daniel Toomey, of Gate of Heaven Church in Dallas, Roberts said. Jack Cleary, father of the late Michael J. Cleary, will also speak.
“I always knew of Michael Cleary,” Roberts said, noting he played soccer on Cleary Field located next to Wycallis Elementary School on Conyngham Avenue.
Cleary was a 1999 graduate of Dallas Senior High School. He joined the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of First Lieutenant and Platoon Leader of the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team, Echo Company, 1/15 Infantry Regiment, Third Brigade, Third Infantry Division.
Cleary, 24, was killed in December 2005 in an ambush by hostile forces near Samarra, Iraq.
Roberts spent time with Jack Cleary to learn more about the monument’s namesake.
Roberts learned Michael was also an Eagle Scout and played soccer.
“I saw I had a lot of similarities with him,” Roberts said, adding Jack shared photos of his son playing soccer with the Back Mountain Youth Soccer League.
“I played with the Back Mountain, too,” Roberts said.
Jack did make one comment that changed the teen’s perspective on the memorial.
“He told me ‘remember he (Michael) is not just a memory but a person who died,’” Roberts said. “That really stuck with me.”
Roberts’ father Rick and grandfather Jim both served in the U.S. Army.
“My grandfather is a Vietnam veteran,” Roberts said. “My dad was in the U.S. Army and is now in the Military Reserves.”
Although an Eagle Scout project is meant to showcase a Boy Scout’s leadership skills as well as take a project from an idea on paper to reality, Roberts learned about dedication to one’s country and its effects on family and community.
” I never had to experience the unknown — possibility of death — when someone is sent off to war,” he said.
Reach Eileen Godin at 570-991-6387 or on Twitter @TLNews.