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‘We are here ... we are here’: Purcellville mother honors fallen son’s legacy

Army Spc. Stephan L. Mace will killed in action in October 2009. Since then, a golf tournament has been named in his honor with all proceeds going to benefit veteran’s organizations. Photo Courtesy/Vanessa Adelson
Vanessa Adelson compares the work she does on behalf of veterans to the classic Dr. Seuss book “Horton Hears A Who.”

It's fitting.

“There's this big elephant carrying the clover around and the veterans are the ones screaming 'we are here, we are here',” she said.

The mother of five knew when her son, Stephan Mace died in combat in 2009, she couldn't just sit by and watch his brothers-in-arms suffer as they returned home from fighting on the front lines.

“When Stephan died, everything was taken from me. But I had choices. I could either sit in my bed every day and mourn him or I could get up and do something to support the people that served alongside him,” she said.

So it was disheartening when Adelson recently learned that the golf tournament in her son's name would no longer continue as its sponsors had pulled out.

Then, she got the call.

Mace's childhood friend, Sam Chapman, got word that the tournament honoring Mace would no longer continue. He knew had to do something.

The legacy of Mace, an Army specialist who was killed in action Oct. 3, 2009, in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan, could not fade away along with this event.

So what began 20 years ago in the Kingsbridge Manor community in Purcellville has come full circle, with Chapman and several other close friends stepping up to the plate.

“We live in an awesome community and the people are awesome and came forward to make it happen,” Chapman said.

Now, with the help of residents and Loudoun businesses – Jenkins Restorations in Sterling gave $10,000 – the Stephan Mace Annual Golf Classic will continue Sept. 14 at the Loudoun Golf and Country Club.

“When I got the call I knew that we had to make it happen. I just didn't know how it would come about,” Chapman said.

But, to his surprise, almost every resident and business Chapman and his team, which include more of Mace's childhood friends, asked for sponsorships said yes.

Adelson gave her blessing to the group. How could she not? Adelson watched for years as her son, his brothers and the kids in the neighborhood played together – everything from riding dirt bikes to the typical mischief boys like to get into.

“I was just in awe. I was sitting down with kids that I didn't know was going to be involved in it. There's five of Stephan's childhood friends sitting around and they had spreadsheets and notes ... and they just had everything ready,” Adelson said.

Fifty-percent of the proceeds from the tournament will go toward Team Red White and Blue, an organization that gets veterans back into the community by having them participate in sporting events.

The remaining 50 percent will go to Maj. Christopher Cordova's chapter, which will fund a mountain biking camp he is holding in the fall. Cordova is the physician’s assistant who kept Mace alive long enough for him to be flown out of Combat Outpost Keating.

“We want to honor the friendship he has given us over the years,” Adelson said.

A never-ending fight

Adelson cringes sometimes when people tell her Mace died serving his country. No, she corrects them, he died for his brothers who fought alongside him in Afghanistan.

In May 2009, Mace and his brothers-in-arms were deployed to Combat Outpost Keating in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan. This small outpost was located at the bottom of three steep mountains and manned by 53 soldiers. On Oct. 3, 2009, an estimated 400 Taliban, who held the high ground, attacked COP Keating. Mace had just gotten off guard duty when the battle began. Instead of staying where it was safer, he ran back to one of the most vulnerable areas to help man a .50-caliber gun, so others could fall back into safer positions.

Mace sacrificed his life for his Army brothers and was posthumously awarded several medals including a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal with Valor. Eight soldiers were killed that day.

“The burden our family carries on our shoulders every day … it never leaves me. I think about him every day. I wake up thinking about him. I go to bed thinking about him,” Adelson said.

Since Mace's death, the mother, whose other son Christopher deployed to Afghanistan with the Army eight months after his brother's death, has become a surrogate for veterans without a home or family. She's learned how to cut through the Veteran's Affairs red tape to get the men and women, many who return from combat with post traumatic stress disorder, the help they need.

“I get the phone calls when they hit the brick walls,” Adelson said.

How many have to die?

Adelson has countless examples of how frustrating it can be for veterans leaving the military only to slam into a brick wall. Veterans, generally, are not taught how to maneuver through the civilian world once they're discharged – everything from requesting medical records from the VA to learning how to write a resume become daunting tasks.

Adelson has frequently been in contact with the White House and directors of Veteran's Affairs offices to make things happen. She ruthless. And it works.

“How many of these soldiers are near suicide and they're coming to you for help and you're not helping them,” Adelson said she told one military official. “It scares me to death of how many soldiers have gone through that who don't have family members caring for them and that's their last hope.”

For information on the Stephan Mace Annual Golf Classic, visit http://www.stephanmacegolf.com.


What a wonderful way to honor her son.  I’m glad the golf tournament will continue.  Vanessa Adelson is an amazing woman helping veterans like she does.

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