It's About the Little Things
by Maddie Crimmins

Honestly, I didn’t know Tom all that well. He was quiet, I was a year ahead, and we met a handful of times. So I didn’t know Tom, as in knew Tom like his friends knew him, but what I do know is the impact he has made and the legacy he has left. So while this is a story of Tom this also a story of the trickle down effect and how he has reached so many more people then he will ever know.

James Crimmins and I call each other cousins but we truly don’t know at what branch we’re related, so it wasn’t until he came to West Point that we’d ever met. Throughout his first year, and my second, we made a point to get to know one another. And when James was there, so was Tom, and usually a handful of other plebes, but always James and Tom, you would have thought they were glued together. Without fail they’d be at mass together and they’d sit together and when they’d go to leave I’d get a hug from James and a handshake from Tom. But by the end of the year that handshake had turned into a hug too. Always a quiet hello and a smile, and with James looking like they had some plan of what would be happening next. Occasionally I’d run into them somewhere else on post but they were always at mass, and always together, and that’s really how I knew Tom. Tom and James. James the family that I didn’t know I had, and Tom, James’ best friend and partner in crime.

It was that summer, summer 2016, right after the incident when, looking back, I realized Tom taught his first lesson: empathy, compassion, and some awareness to an officer he likely never met. See when Tom and James went to the hospital and word got back to the academy and reached the cadet level it was so muddled they weren’t sure who was who and what had actually happened. The group of upper-class cadets who were training to lead the incoming class were the only cadets on campus and they pulled us each in by company (which at this time was only about 20 a piece). A brand-new to West Point officer looked at us and said, “There’s been an accident. Two cadets were rushed to the hospital. One is in critical condition.” Someone asked if they’d be releasing the names. The officer pulled out a piece of paper and said “Yeah, Class of 2019, Crimmins and Surdyke.” Everyone turned to look at me. The officer looked around at everyone looking at me and said, “What? Why’s everyone staring?” Another cadet looked at me almost asking for permission and said, “Sir, are you sure you don’t know which one is critical?” He shrugged and said, “No, what difference does it make.” I was still shocked and appalled and trying to process. My response: “The difference is Sir, you never looked to see who you had in your formation. There are only 20 of us, Crimmins is not a common last name. I suggest you find out.” He kept looking back and forth between the piece of paper and my nametape, as if dumbfounded that I could be a relation. Two different chaplains came in that night to talk to me but we all just prayed for both of them, and the civilian, and just waited. It took almost 36 more hours to get accurate information and by that point it was coming from James. That officer was reprimanded by a senior level leader and had to come back to us and apologize. He learned that you must always be compassionate when speaking to soldiers about something like that and to do some research to see if maybe there is someone you should pull aside before you make an announcement like that. He got some awareness and gained some empathy but he learned some humility too. I learned everything I wouldn't do in that situation and the impact it could have. 

It was roughly a week later when I had my squad of new cadets and they wanted to know where I was going for the day. I explained I was headed to a funeral. Who it was for, what he had done. It was at that point that James messaged me to let me know that the platoon I was leading was their platoon, and that I should tell my New Cadets that. That was the day Tom taught an entire platoon of brand new cadets who he’d never meet what it meant to serve, and what they’d signed up for, what sacrifice meant. They spent every day of those first three weeks knowing that they were walking in the shoes of someone who had already lived up to the values that they were just memorizing. It may be a 47 month journey but that doesn’t mean you only understand upon graduation. It is something you learn to live much earlier, and Tom showed them that. And he’d stood there only a year earlier, they were ready to step up too, that was the challenge to them. Live like Tom, live up to what Tom embodied. They got it. 8 of my 10 are back leading their own new cadets starting this week.

It was on that same day, 04JUL2016 that Tom taught me personally about remembrance and living each day for those that can’t. I’ve watched Mansions of the Lord bring grown men to tears but I never truly understood why before that day. Add in the extra story that Stuart told us about Air Assault School, watching We Were Soldiers, and Tom saying he wanted Mansions at his funeral and you had every single member of the choir sobbing before the mass even started. You see, what I hadn’t understood was how profound it would be for someone who had lost men they served with. In watching officers, before and after, as a choir sang this piece I realized I could see them going through names in their heads. Each military member has a list of people they remember and pray for, and sincerely wish they were here to share new memories with. For me, I am just beginning and there are only a couple of names on that list. But Tom will always be first, and he will always remind me why I serve, but more so why we need to remember.

In closing I offer this, Tom’s impact is about the little things that come up each day that I would have overlooked before knowing him, ever so briefly and tangentially, and before he gave his life for another. Things like “Do you want to be an Organ Donor?” when I got a new CAC and subsequent driver’s license. I’d never considered it, but now it wasn’t even a question. Or “What does your bracelet mean?” since I never take it off. It’s the story of a young man who never knew how many lives he would touch. Or “Why is Mansions a favorite of the yours?” Because it’s a reminder of all those who gave their lives in service of their nation, it’s a reminder of my brothers and sisters and their sacrifice. People I knew personally, as well as those I will never meet. So no, I didn’t really know Tom. But I do know the impact he has left on my life and the lives of many others; he lives on in us, and the service we took an oath for, I for one hope to live up to the standards he set. I’ll be forever grateful to him, and for him.

“We Will Stand and Guard, Though the Angels Sleep”

Maddie Crimmins ‘18

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