Julian: The military runs deep through three generations of Major Jim Burchfield’s family.
Major Jim Burchfield: My father was in the Army during World War II. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a Marine. I probably influenced the boys and they, you know, have followed in our footprints. And both of them are in the Marines as well.
Julian: Deployments have forced Jim, like so many others who defend our country, to miss a lot of special moments, like birthdays and anniversaries. Missed moments that his daughter, 17-year-old Melanie Burchfield has dealt with bravely.
But when Major Burchfield left his home near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, he knew it would mean he would miss his daughter’s high school graduation.
Patti Burchfield: How we are going to tell her, how was she going to react.
Melanie Burchfield: At first it was, like, shocking. And it, like, made me angry. Just angry that, like, the fact that he couldn’t be there.
Major Burchfield: And she said, ‘You’re not going.’ And I – so, I said, ‘Well, that’s okay, Mel. I’ll do something really special to make sure we make up for it somehow.’
Julian: Major Burchfield’s something special began with an email to Bethel Park High School Principal Zeb Jansante.
Principal Zeb Jansante: He requested that he take a few photos with his daughter with her cap and gown on. My immediate thoughts were, ‘wow, this is really important, really something that we want to do more than just take a simple photo.’
Julian: So Bethel Park hosted its very first mock graduation and after party – all for just one student and the dad who is known as a hero to many in his community.
Principal Jansante: What the military does for our country, it’s very, very important to us. So we responded by saying we’re going to send you off with a Bethel Park real send-off.
Julian: Decked out in her cap and gown, Melanie stood next to her father in his formal uniform.
Major Burchfield: It was very special.
Melanie: I got my diploma, and I looked up and I saw my dad and he was just smiling back at me. That made me tear up.
Patti: When you see it in real life and you see their eyes meet, there’s just no words to describe the love that was between the two of them.
Julian: But Melanie says nothing will fill the void while her father is gone.
Melanie: I’m still not over it.
Julian: And what will she be thinking when she gets her diploma for real?
Melanie: That I know he’s proud of me. That I actually did it.