Salisbury Post Office dedicated to Wardell Turner

The U.S. Post Office in Salisbury was renamed for Sgt. Maj. Wardell Turner at a ceremony that united guests in a spirit of warmth and gratifying memories.

Sgt. Maj. Wardell Turner of Nanticoke was killed in Afghanistan.

“I can’t wait to go today and I’m going to mail myself a letter at the Wardell B. Turner United States Post Office. Have the plaque ready by the time I get there,” the Rev. Cam Carte said to laughter and hearty applause from the standing-room-only audience gathered at the American Legion Post No. 64 on Friday afternoon.

Carte, Turner’s high school friend and teammate, was among the dignitaries and loved ones honoring Turner with his wife, Katherine, daughter, Shayla, and young son. Three more sons were not able to attend.

Mrs. Turner remembered how her husband would tell her to “hunt the good” and be kind.

“He is my forever angel. His legacy is real. When you go to that post office, turn around and look in the eyes of the person behind you and say, ‘How are you today?’ That’s what he would have wanted,” she said.

Joking, she said she often wondered if her husband’s last words, like in a movie scene, were “Tell her I love her.”

Mrs. Turner said she later learned he had been talking about her minutes before he boarded the vehicle that struck an improvised explosive device, known as an IED, killing him.

It was Nov. 24, 2014, in Kabul, Afghanistan. Turner was 48.

He planned to retire the following year.

Shayla Turner called her father “a leader within his generation” and said conversations she had with him are “gems to me.”

When he was first killed, she said, she didn’t like hearing his name.

“It was just too much for me. And now hearing his name is like a breath of fresh air,” she said.

Congressman Andy Harris, who, last year, submitted the bill to have the post office renamed, presented a U.S. flag that flew over the Capitol to Salisbury Postmaster Ann Brady.

Harris also gave to Mrs. Turner the framed act of Congress that formally changed the building name, signed by President Trump.

“As a veteran, one of the things that is very important is to remember the fallen,” Harris said. “What better way than to commemorate the sergeant major? Every time somebody goes to the post office, they will remember his contribution. What a wonderful thing,” he said to applause.

Proclamations and certificates were presented by representatives from offices including those of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, state Sen. Addie Eckardt and state delegates including Wayne Hartman, Johnny Mautz and Carl Anderton.

The National Anthem was sung by Cadet Lt. Josie Organista; Jordan Montgomery sang “America the Beautiful” as many veterans, including Mayor Jake Day, placed their hands over their hearts or saluted the flag.

Turner’s uncle, Herman Turner, a retired Wicomico County teacher — who walked to the podium with his brother, Eric — described his nephew as a boy who could convince peers working on the family farm to stop laboring and play with him, but that he grew into a young man dedicated to playing football and serving in the U.S. Army.

Known for routinely answering his family’s inquiries about college and Army life with “It’s alright — I’m OK” with no elaboration, Turner was deployed to war zones without complaint.

Speaker after speaker mentioned his humility and way of sharing with others credit for successes.

Before he returned to Afghanistan for the last time, he told his uncle he was “going back where I came from.”

“That did not sit well with me. He said, ‘My country needs me.’ He was going back,” Herman Turner said, his voice breaking.

“I don’t know if I can get through this,” he said, as audience members gently said, “Take your time.”

“I am so pleased,” the senior Turner said, composing himself.  “I am so happy. I am so overwhelmed.”

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Harris, who lives near Mrs. Turner in San Antonio, said she has called him her husband’s mentor, yet he said that Turner actually mentored him.

“Wardell is not gone. He lives through her. She’s here and he’s here and he’s alive,” Harris said, looking at Mrs. Turner, who smiled.

Remarking on that smile, Harris said Turner, too, was always pleasant.

Command Sgt. Maj. Osvaldo Martinez, who met the Turners when he and his wife took their son to the local playground, said Turner ended up sitting next to him in the academy.

“Wardell loved his family,” Martinez said.

“A soldier dies twice — once when he physically dies and the second time when you stop mentioning his name. But every time somebody walks through that post office and mails a letter and reads the placard with his name on it, he is still alive,” he said.

“He was just Wardell to me,” said Carte, who was with Turner in the James M. Bennett High School Class of 1984.

“Just a guy. A classmate,” he said. “A teammate and a friend, a man with a true sense of ‘we’ and not ‘me.’

“If anything good came from the death of Wardell, it is that someone might turn his life over to God,” Carte said.

“While his body rests in Arlington National Cemetery, his spirit is alive in this moment. He is missed but he will not be forgotten. May he be loved and honored today and may his God be served.”

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