Culpeper Star-Exponent: ‘Every Day is Memorial Day for us”—20 years later, remembering fallen Culpeper soldier

CULPEPER STAR-EXPONENT, ALLISON BROPHY CHAMPION

“It passes by.”

The time, that is, said Gold Star Mother Mary Ann Cowherd, of Culpeper.

It’s been 20 years since her son, Army 2nd Lt. Leonard Malloneé Cowherd III, died in Iraq while serving his country. The 22-year-old was killed May 16, 2004, by sniper and rocket-propelled-grenade fire while securing a building near the Mukhayam Mosque in Karbala.

Leonard Cowherd was a 2003 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He has an identical twin brother, Charles, now an ordained minister, and also left behind an older brother, a sister, his parents and a young widow.

Cowherd stayed busy on the 20th anniversary of losing her son, working on a library project at the family church, St. Stephen’s Episcopal.

She attended a book club, a Red Hats gathering, presented a Daughters of the American Revolution award to a local student and attended bell choir practice at night, followed by a party for the last rehearsal of the season.

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“It just happened that way,” she said of her full schedule. “I was glad.”

Charles and Leonard were really smart, just normal twin brothers, Cowherd said. Their father said they were also very religious.

“They were very gregarious,” she said. “Their fifth grade teacher said they were really popular.”

The twins attended Wakefield Country Day School in Rappahannock, excelling academically and athletically at lacrosse, soccer and basketball. Leonard was a leader, in life and at war, in charge of a platoon of 16, Cowherd said.

When asked what she thought of him attending West Point she said, “That’s what he wanted to do and he got in. He wanted it. He also wanted to go to Duke, but he didn’t get accepted.”

Cowherd said she never worried about him.

“I didn’t dwell on it, but I didn’t think it would end up like this.”

Since his death 20 years ago, the Cowherd family has added five grandchildren. Lt. Cowherd would have been uncle to three nieces and two nephews.

“He wanted five kids and would have been a great father like his twin,” said Cowherd.

She remembered the last time she saw Leonard, walking down the walkway at the family home, war-bound.

“I didn’t cry. I kept it together. I was so naïve, I guess, you know, when you have a child in the military coming and going. But he got to go and not come back.”

Lt. Cowherd called home the Easter before he died, but no one was home to take the call, his mother said. She recalled a big white vehicle pulling into their driveaway the next month.

“We saw the uniforms and we knew. We sunk,” Cowherd said of an officer and a chaplain delivering the news of their son’s death.

She remembered thinking, “From Iraq to Culpeper, how did you find us?”

“I’ll never forgot their shoes. I couldn’t look at their faces. I looked at their patent leather shoes coming down the walk.”

Cowherd said they don’t live their life in mourning.

“I just miss him so much. When the other three are together, there’s just such a hole,” she said. “But we go on.”

Memorial Day will bring the typical picnics and store sales, she stated. The date of her son’s death and the national holiday remembering the fallen sort of run together, Cowherd added.

“Every day is Memorial Day for us.”

Her husband, Leonard Malloneé Cowherd II, reached out to the Star-Exponent earlier this week looking to find out who left an elaborate arrowhead on his son’s grave at Arlington Cemetery.

The Washington Post, working on a story about mementos left behind in Section 60, called him about the item recently discovered.

“It’s an odd thing this arrowhead, like a metal piece of jewelry,” he said. “We’re trying to track down who might have done that, getting in touch with some of his army friends, to try to find out. There’s a group of people that knew him.”

A group of his West Point friends and their wives are coming June 1 to Culpeper to visit, Cowherd said.

It’s helpful to know that people still care, added her husband.

The arrow could be like the Jewish tradition of placing stones on graves, Leonard Cowherd said. Or it could be tied to the Order of the Arrow honor society of the Boy Scouts; all three of his sons were scouts, he added.

Asked about the 20th anniversary of his son’s death in Iraq, Cowherd said they talked about it as it approached and then it departed. It’s hard to remember the details of recent days, he said.

He vividly remembered the last time he saw his son. Like his wife, it was walking down the path at their house.

“I put my hand up on his shoulder and kind of squeezed it. That was kind of the last thing I ever did to him.”

A squeeze on the shoulder has held significance for the Gold Star parents since.

“Whenever she’s getting ready to go on some trip, I will squeeze her shoulder,” Leonard Cowherd said. “She knows that that is one of those little things that we do.

“Everything around reminds me of him,” he added. “This picture I’m looking at.”

A father and a mother experience grief differently, he said. His wife is more emotional about it.

“Guys are not exactly that way, and I am weird on top of that. I never cried about it … I figured out if I started crying, I wouldn’t quit so I said, don’t want to do that.”

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, spoke of Lr. Cowherd this week on the floor of the U.S. House.

“As we head toward Memorial Day weekend, we remember the Virginians who bravely defended and died for our country — Virginians like Second Lieutenant Leonard M. Cowherd III. Leonard’s sister, Laura Salinas, wrote to me about her brother’s career in service … ‘Twenty years have passed but I remain grateful for the support and the love we still receive from many who knew Leonard in the community,’” Salinas wrote.

“We will never forget the Virginians whose individual sacrifices allow us to enjoy the promises of freedom — and my heart is with Leonard’s family as they continue to hold his memory and spirit with them,” Spanberger stated.

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