THE grieving widow of Banbridge soldier Stephen McKee said she will hold his campaign medal close to her heart after a special presentation ceremony earlier this month.
Carley McKee attended the Royal Irish Regiment medals parade in England where she accepted the Elizabeth Cross from Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, on behalf of her late husband.
Stephen (27) was killed on March 9 this year when the vehicle in which he was sitting was hit by a roadside bomb in the Nad-e-Ali region of Afghanistan. Banbridge town centre came to a standstill as businesses closed and hundreds of people lined the streets for his funeral two weeks later.
Tragically just a year earlier Carley and Stephen lost their baby daughter Keeley at just two days old. An inquest into the child’s death last month found she died of a rare but treatable form of pneumonia.
Carley was supported by family members as she attended the Waterloo Day parade at the RIR base in Ternhill, Shropshire two weeks ago. The 21-year-old, who is currently living in England but plans to move to Banbridge in the near future where her “two angels” are buried, said the ceremony was full of bittersweet emotion.
“It was a sad but happy day,” she told the Leader. “It was sad to see the other families who have lost but it was also great to see Stephen and the others being honoured in such a way.” Carley was tearful as she received her husband’s Elizabeth Cross from Prince Andrew - the Regiment’s Colonel-in-Chief - supported by her father-in-law Bobby.
Admitting that she is still recovering from the pain of having to attend her daughter’s inquest last month without her husband by her side, Carley added that Stephen’s medal will be a source of comfort to her in the days ahead.
“I will hold the Elizabeth Cross close to my heart forever,” she said, adding that it has given her “a lift” during a time of overwhelming grief following both tragedies.
Stephen McKee was the third Northern Irish soldier from the RIR to be killed during their most recent tour of Afghanistan. The regiment was due to return home just weeks after his death.