Honoring Army Spc. Daniel J. Cunningham Jr. through The Summit Project Living Memorial
Our first introduction to the Summit Project was in October 2013 when Major David Cote attended a meeting with members of the Patriot Riders of Maine, Chapter 1 at Torches restaurant in Kennebunk. Major David Cote explained that the Summit Project is a living memorial that pays tribute to the fallen service members from Maine who died in the line of duty since September 11, 2001. The families of our fallen Maine heroes donated a special stone that represents their fallen family member. These stones will be carried up to the top of MT. Katahdin on Memorial Day 2014. Major Cote asked the Patriot Riders to carry the stones from Portland to Mt. Katahdin on our bikes. We were so inspired by Major Cote and his dedication to the Summit Project that we wanted to be a part of this, not only carrying a stone on Memorial Day to MT. Katahdin, but to really learn and understand one of these fallen service members and their families.
At the end of the evening Toby and I introduced ourselves to Major Cote, we talked more about the stones. We mention to him that we were going to the Dayton 500 in February 2014 and would like to take one of the stones with us as a living memorial and wanted to know if any of the fallen heroes liked Nascar. He knew right away that SGT Daniel Cunningham, Jr. loved Nascar and told us that his mother, Nancy Cunningham retrieved his stone from the Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford, ME near their home in Lewiston. We were so excited and ready to learn all we could about SGT Daniel Cunningham, Jr.
And so our journey begins….
We researched the Summit Project on the website; we read the interview that Major Cote had with SGT Daniel Cunningham, Jr’s mother Nancy Cunningham.
We emailed Major Cote to let him know that we were ready for the commitment to receive a stone. All the stones were stored at Major Cote’s mother’s home in Bangor. Major Cote informed his mother that we would be picking up SGT Cunningham Jr’s stone.
On January 11th we arrived at Mrs. Cote’s home in Bangor to receive the stone. We spent a couple of hours with her talking about the Summit Project and our plan with the stone. When we received the stone, a great sense of pride and responsibility came over us. To understand what SGT Daniel Cunningham Jr, sacrificed for us was very overwhelming.
The first event we took SGT Cunningham Jr’s stone to was a Patriot Riders winter skating party and Chili cook off. Some of the members asked about the stone. This was the first opportunity we had to tell SGT Cunningham’s story. This was such an honor for us.
Wednesday, February 12th we brought the Stone to the Patriot Riders monthly meeting. Another great opportunity to talk about the Summit Project and about SGT Daniel Cunningham Jr. Many of the members are very excited about the Summit Project and are willing to do all they can to help. On Wednesday night February 19th, I called Nancy Cunningham to tell her that we had Daniel’s stone and explain to her what we wanted to do. When I introduced myself as a Patriot Rider, she knew who we were and what we were all about. We talked for quite a while, Nancy is so proud of Daniel and loves to tell stories about him. She told me a lot about Daniel and her family. When I told her we lived in Shapleigh on Mousam Lake, she told me that one of her son’s God-father has a home on Mousam Lake and she came to the Lake to visit them several years ago. We talked a lot about the lake and by the end of the conversation we invited her to come to Shapleigh this summer to our home to enjoy a day at the lake.
We told Nancy we wanted to take Daniel’s stone to the Daytona 500 in February 2014. She told us that Dale Earnhardt Sr. was Daniel’s favorite driver. The last time Daniel was at Daytona was in 2001, the race that Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed in and the #3 car had not raced since then. This year 2014 13 years later the #3 car will be racing at Daytona 500 in the pole position the first time since 2001 and we will be taking Daniel’s stone to the raceway.
Nancy then told us that Daniel did receive the Bronze Star Medal for his service, but did not receive a Purple Heart after he was killed in the line of duty. Daniel was with 3 other soldiers when their vehicle was under attack and flip over into a ravine. Nancy did some research and found the driver of the vehicle that was wounded, Jeff Taylor, living in Florida. Jeff told Nancy that he and 2 of the other solders did received the Purple Heart. Nancy was determined to get Daniel his Purple Star. She contacted several state officials, Ted Kennedy, Mike Michaud, and Olympia Snow. Nancy personally met Olympia Snow at her office, and with her help Daniel received his Purple Heart in 2008.
Trip to Daytona…
It was time to leave for Daytona; I wrapped SGT Cunningham’s stone in plastic wrap and placed it in my carryon luggage because I wanted to keep it with me every minute. When the bag was scanned, I was asked to step to the side and my bag was searched. The TSA agent asked me what I had in my bag; it was a great opportunity to tell him about the Summit Project and about SGT Daniel Cunningham Jr. The TSA agent was from Lewiston and heard about SGT Cunningham, he wrapped the stone back up and gently placed the stone back in the bag. He thanked me for telling him about SGT Cunningham’s and the Summit Project and wished us luck in our journey.
On Saturday, the day before the Daytona 500 Toby and I took the stone with us to the raceway. I carried the stone with me all day. I felt the weight and mass of the stone every step I took which made me realize the sacrifice of these heroes and the sacrifice of their families.
We took pictures with SGT Cunningham’s stone in many places. Many people asked us what we were doing with the stone, giving us so many opportunities to tell them about SGT Daniel Cunningham, Jr, which truly made this stone a living memorial.