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The Notre Dame — Cornerstone Sibling Event

“Mitchell, if you ever want to go to a college that has pride, camaraderie, spirit, education, and most of all, faith in God, let this be a reminder.”

When Mitchell was 10 years old, his dad gave him a paperweight that read “Notre Dame University.” Mitchell kept the paperweight at his bedside–rarely using it to hold down paper, but never forgetting the meaning behind it.

Mitchell had graduated from high school and was due to leave for college in three weeks when he received the news: the helicopter transporting his dad’s unit in Afghanistan had been shot down. That August 2011 evening devastated his life and the lives of his mother, younger sister, and little brother.

Ten-year-old Seth, the middle child in his family, lost his father in the same helicopter crash that killed Mitchell’s dad. Both men were attached to an elite group of the Naval Special Warfare community. They were two of 17 U.S. Navy SEALs who perished in the Chinook crash that killed all 31 Americans on board.

Four years later in October 2015, Word of Honor Fund (WoHF) sent its first sibling mentor and child to the Notre Dame vs. Navy game in South Bend, Indiana. Mitchell, now 22, escorted his younger sister Jordan, 16, to see the Fighting Irish take on the Naval Academy Midshipmen. Seth also made the trip along with his mentor, Lou, a friend of his father.

At a chilly pep rally the night before the game, Lou remarked that a hot cocoa would be nice right about now. Seth told Lou how his dad always used to trick him, telling him that his hot cocoa was really a cappuccino. Seth half-smiled in remembrance, but then sorrowfully followed with, “Guess that’s not going to happen again.” Then he quickly changed the subject and posed for a picture with a “Fighting Irish” stance.

On game day, the WoHF kids and mentors were greeted by their Indiana hosts who treated the group to a tour of the Notre Dame campus and the players’ locker room. The children and mentors attended two pep rallies, threw some passes on the home field, and ate burgers and hot dogs at the tailgate party before meeting at “the Gug,” Notre Dame’s Guglielmino Athletics Complex. The WoHF group was invited to walk with the players from the Gug to the stadium with hardcore Irish fans lining their path, many asking these silent heroes for high-fives.

Though it was an upset loss for Navy, the Naval Academy team invited the WoHF group back to the stadium to meet all the Navy players. Before boarding their bus back to Annapolis, Maryland, the Navy team stopped to autograph their football programs and sincerely thanked them for their family’s sacrifice.

Later that evening, Lou spent some time with Mitchell. Lou talked to him about his dad, with whom who he had worked from 1997 to 2000. Out of a Notre Dame bookstore bag, Lou produced three of the university’s paperweights. He told Mitchell that WoHF knew about his dad’s wishes for him. “As a son, a mentor, a father figure, your dad would be proud! When the time is right, give the other two to your sister and brother. Remind them of what your dad said to you.”

Mitchell remembers those words of encouragement. “It’s one thing I have kept of his that really means a lot to me,” Mitchell admitted, holding back tears. “Wow, you guys have no idea what this means to me right now!”

Together, Jordan and Mitchell remembered their dad’s wishes and the Notre Dame vs. Navy event that gave them the opportunity to bond over them.

Before his departure, Seth also received a surprise from Lou—a tall cup of hot cocoa. Lou handed it to Seth with a pat on the back and quietly said, “Hey buddy, here’s your cappuccino.”

Months after that special trip to South Bend, Seth’s mother reports that Seth still talks about the cappuccino that Lou gave him that day. As for Mitchell, he has always been inspired by his military surroundings and is currently in boot camp to join the U.S. Navy.