The Society has lost its champion, I have lost my best friend...

6 years ago

by Richard Azzaro (1963-65)

"With heavy heart, I want to let you know that we lost a good soldier last night. He fought hard to the end.” With these words, a dutiful and loving son announced the death of our Neale Cosby (1958-60) who passed away on June 4th, 2017, and with him part of our history in the Society as well. You will read many expressions of love, respect and gratitude by his family, the hundreds he served with, mentored and extended his friendship. Each will speak to those qualities that inspired them, or helped them in meeting life’s challenges, their work or time of need; these qualities were uniquely Neale’s. Their comments will evidence the many interests he applied himself to. They will trumpet his profound love for his family, and for his Country. I’d like to share the comments I received from three Tomb Guards. Meredith Smith (1958), Society co-founder remembers:
“I loved the man as role model, leader, teacher and friend as well as my officer in command. He was never off duty in his expectations whether loving father and husband or just best in his class as a fine human being. Never once did he raise his voice to achieve his goal. I would follow him without question knowing he would be right there when needed. He was best of his class. How lucky were to have this man in our lives. God Bless Neale Cosby.”
Past President Jim Cardamon (1957-58) commented upon hearing the news that:
“We lost a hero last night. Heaven gained one. What he has done for us will never be completely known. That is how he was. An American soldier died last night. I respected and loved the man.”
Gavin McILvenna (1997-98), co-founder and current President remembers:
“One of the four original founding fathers of the Society, he was the primary driving force behind the formation and incorporation of the Society in 1999, and served as our first Society President. Neale was constantly looking to make the Society not only relevant to the Tomb Guard mission and a continuation of our service to the Unknown Soldiers, but a platform to educate the world about both."

From his first tour in Vietnam (1967) when he was assigned to MACV-SOG as a Major

Neale showered his love upon many things; large and small, and many people; the well-known and those all but forgotten. He never worked in half measures and always with the heart of a Tomb Guard. He embodied the very soul of the Tomb Guard’s mission and it informed every decision he made, every kindness he extended and every service he rendered. He was the embodiment of Duty, Honor and Country. He was a leader that led by precept and example. I know this because he was my friend, my mentor and my brother Tomb Guard. I had the honor and privilege to share in part of his journey and dare say a partner in many initiatives in service to our Country and the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As I work my way through Neale’s death, trying to deal with the emptiness, many remembrances and thoughts rush to compete with each other. During those first few moments and hours, I thought of historical references that mark the deaths of great leaders and loved friends: I remembered a phrase “who will draw the bow now?” and “Captain my Captain”. I fixed upon an expression of grief that said “we cannot mourn them according to their merit, for our mourning will be never ending”. And finally, General Patton’s expression that Neale and I reviewed and analyzed many times as we prepared for the Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. General Patton advised us that we should not mourn, but rather celebrate and be glad that we had such men. I am not there yet, but I will say this, I will not allow death to control my thoughts of Neale. I choose to remember and to be inspired by how he lived. And when the crying is done, I will celebrate his life, his love for our country, and our service to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the “electric cord” that connects us in life and in death.
I met Neale many years ago, shortly after the very first reunion of the Tomb Guard, sponsored by the Old Guard. He called me at my office, where I was serving as the General Counsel, at the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. He came in on my private line. He identified himself and sought confirmation that I was a former Tomb Guard. Funny, the way he asked it, I promptly responded, “Yes sir”. From the very moment of that introduction, I knew I was talking to someone special. He invited me to have lunch. As many of you know and I was to learn, an invitation to lunch from Neale Cosby, really meant “Fall In! We have work to do”. Little did I know that this man and work we had to do would be such a large part of my life and provide me with some of the most rewarding experiences of my life. We had that lunch, we discussed our service at the Tomb. Within minutes, I knew that he knew me in ways that only fellow Tomb Guards knew me when I was there. And it felt good. Another Tomb Guard!!!!! He then put it to me. “We had to form and organization of Tomb Guards”. As much as I supported the idea, I knew that my plate was very full. I declined. He said yes, he understood, “you have a job”. I still declined, even though I knew that I was already recruited. I kind of surrendered, with a “I can’t, do it, but I will try.” His final and parting shot to me was, “if not us then who and if not now, when. Everybody else was too old.” My rejoinder was “don’t do that to me”, and with that began my journey with Neale. He said he knew just the right guy to join us: a Tomb Guard’s Tomb Guard, smart, very successful and knew his way around complex organizations and the ways of Washington, DC whose name was Meredith Smith. Later, I suggested that I found the right guy: a young, dedicated, hard worker, smart, understood the mission and clearly loved being a Tomb Guard named Gavin McIlvenna. And so began the hours and the days that led into months of our working together after work in my office and the forming of the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I will not go into the details of that initiative, that can be found elsewhere. I will say that between the four of us, no rock was left unturned in determining the who, what, where or why. It was intense, dramatic and exhilarating to work with such fierce Tomb Guards. And no one owns the work like a Tomb Guard!!!! My secretary would always check with me afterwards, and asked if we were alright. She would exclaim that she never heard such intensity and caring for anything. What was to follow was to shape the rest of my life. We formed the Society, we found more Tomb Guards, together we helped wounded warriors, we shaped an educational program, provided support to the current Tomb Guards, and supported former Tomb Guards as they reconnected with their service at the Tomb, and their families in times of grief. Together, we launched a campaign to ensure that the Centennial of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was appropriately commemorated. These are the moments that I will always remember Neale for. And in between these initiatives, I re- live the hundreds of meetings with the Regimental Commanders, the then serving Tomb Guard, Congressional staffers, Department of Defense officials, MDW Commanders, Arlington National Cemetery Officials, just to name a few. I can safely say that one of the more seminal moments occurred when we travelled to Arlington National Cemetery to view the casket of the last remaining World War I veteran. As we stood there, just the two of us, in the catacombs of the ANC Amphitheatre, we each realized, with a “fist to the solar plexus” like blow that there were no more of these veterans of the great war; that in our time at the Tomb, we saw them in the tens of thousands; a sea of white uniforms and their colors. That it was up to us, The Society, to make sure that America would continue to fulfill its sacred duty to never forget or forsake. The mantel was passed and we knew our duty. I cannot fully express the intensity of that moment.
There are many expressions of love and respect for Neale and his work. I commend to you the eulogies of his sons Scott and Cam read at the memorial service. I will close with a quote that I want to share with Neale: “But only the Tomb’s in night time Solitude whisper Cosby is gone”

Tomb Guards from many eras pay their respects at Neale's funeral

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