PHILADELPHIA - Five days before Lance Cpl. Adam C. Conboy was killed in
Iraq, he inspired his own memorial fund.
During a Sunday morning phone call from the Anbar province, he described staying 20 men per room in an old schoolhouse, packed into bunk beds in the scorching heat. The stench, he said, was overwhelming.
He asked his mother if she could send clean sheets — 40 sets of them, one for each member of his platoon.
"C'mon Mom, get Operation Bedding going," he joked.
He was killed the next Friday, May 12, 2006, by non-hostile fire. He had been in Iraq eight weeks.
Friends told his mother to expect flowers to start pouring in.
"I told people I didn't need flowers," Mary Conboy said. "In lieu of that, I took donations to get the bedding Adam asked for out to the guys."
Operation Bedding has since grown from a son's spontaneous quip to a mother's tribute to her fallen Marine. Mary Conboy runs a homespun charity effort from her backyard, sending troops in Iraq packages that contain everything from bedding to sweat socks to canned tuna.
Adam Conboy's platoon got its packages by July, and the company that replaced it received the next shipment. Schools began sending donations, and Mary Conboy started getting requests from different military units interested in the care packages.
But shipping the bedding, toiletries, snacks and books is costly. Mary Conboy estimates she spends $1,000 to get a shipment to Iraq.
To help with the cost, neighbor Donna Palmer decided to turn a housecleaning flea market into a fundraising event.
"I benefit because then I get rid of all the junk in my house," she said, "but really I'm helping a dear friend fulfill her son's last request."
The event scheduled for Saturday, Armed Forces Day, was to feature about 50 vendors, a motorcycle parade, a color guard salute and live music.
It was to be held in Gorgas Park, in the city's Roxborough section, around the corner from Adam Conboy's childhood home. The goal is to raise $10,000.
Charles Conboy, Adam's father, said the funds that keep Operation Bedding afloat are a distraction for him from the pain of losing his son, as well as a distraction for the troops in Iraq "from what's over there, at least for a couple hours while they rip through the packages."
In a DVD sent to the family, Adam Conboy's corps members describe using baby wipes from the packages when they had no running water for bathing and receiving shaving cream just as superiors were demanding they dry shave beards thick from days of growth.
"There was mad fighting over those pillows," one Marine said, "fighting for them, fighting with them, everything."
Mary Conboy said pillows and pepperoni sticks are the troops' favorites, and sometimes the goodies serve a practical purpose.
One Marine told her about meeting an Iraqi child while he had candy in his pockets.
"You show me where an IED is, and I'll give you the candy," he told the child, who led him right to one of the explosives.
"It was on the route where they would have gone that week," Mary Conboy said. "When I talk to people who've made donations, I tell them, 'You might have saved six Marines' lives.'"
Adam Conboy knew he wanted to fight for his country after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He was 17.
His mother told him he was too young. When he signed himself up at age 20, he sent his younger brother to give her the news.
"I said, 'There's something wrong here,'" Mary Conboy said, smiling. "'You joined the Marines, and you're afraid to tell your mother? You might want to toughen up.'"
Fellow Marines on the DVD say he did. They nicknamed him "Daddy" because at 21, he was the oldest among them and handled tense situations with humor.
Mary Conboy said she plans to continue Operation Bedding until the troops come home. Her husband, Gary Warner, built a shed in their backyard to hold donations that crowded them out of their dining room.
Charles Conboy helps pack boxes and takes them to a bulk mailing center. Mary Conboy's six other children, ages 2 to 20, also have rallied around the cause.
When Adam Conboy originally asked his mother to send 40 sets of bedding, Mary Conboy laughed, but wasn't surprised.
"It was very typical Adam," she said. "Just like when he was little. He was always the one to have all the neighborhood kids over for Popsicles."
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