PRIDE of Banbridge, late soldier hero Stephen McKee, will be publicly honoured again when his name is unveiled on the town’s War Memorial at the weekend.
A special Service of Remembrance is taking place this Sunday when an engraving of the late lance corporal’s name will be unveiled at an outdoor ceremony organised by the Royal British Legion and Banbridge District Council.
It will be the first time a name has been added to the memorial since the end of the Second World War.
Speaking ahead of the poignant occasion, Stephen’s father Bobby said all the McKee family would be in attendance, with some family members flying in from England for the ceremony which will be preceded by a parade.
Dignitaries from the council and Royal British Legion will take part and also military personnel with whom Stephen served in the Royal Irish Regiment.
It will be a day Stephen’s parents Heather and Bobby have both longed for and dreaded ever since their 28 year-old son was killed by a roadside bomb planted by insurgents in Afghanistan’s war-torn Nad ‘Ali district on March 9, 2011.
“We will be spending the first anniversary on Friday just quietly reflecting on Stephen’s life and what he meant to us all,” said Heather. “It will obviously be very emotional, but in many ways it will just be the same as any other because every single day we feel Stephen’s loss and every single day we visit his grave and the grave of his baby daughter Keeley.”
Bobby and Heather feel honoured their son is being publicly remembered and given the same status as fallen soldiers from the Great War and Second World War whose names adorn the monument.
“It will be a very special day for us because we never wanted anyone else’s name to be added to the list of war dead,” added Bobby, “but, at the same time, it comforts us to know that people in the town are proud of what he, and others, did in their name.”
Stephen will be the first person from Banbridge who died in a modern conflict to have his name added to the war memorial and a new plaque has been added to its base specifically for the purpose.
“The past year has been very hard and it doesn’t seem to get any easier, but we would like to say a sincere ‘thank-you’ to Banbridge people whose support has helped us tremendously,” said Bobby. “There are days when I hear the phone ring or I hear a knock on the door and I sometimes forget myself and almost hope it is him. I was so used to Stephen being on the end of the phone or bursting through the front door.
“We are fortunate to have a very close family and they have buoyed us up, but to know that Banbridge is behind Stephen means an awful lot.
“So many people still stop us in the street just to ask how we are and small gestures like this are really comforting. Stephen would be very proud - and I think very surprised - to discover how much people thought of him.”
Reverend Albert Jackson will give the address at the ceremony which starts at 3pm and wreaths will be laid by the McKee family, the Royal Irish Regiment, Banbridge District Council, The Royal British Legion, the Women’s Royal British Legion and the Regimental Association of the Royal Irish Regiment.