Widow reflects on first Memorial Day


Sunday, May 30, 2021
Robert Lang, WBAL NewsRadio 1090 and FM 101.5

This Memorial Day is very different for Emily Zembas.

It is the first holiday without her husband, Army 1st Lt. Dax Conrad.

The Bel Air native and C. Milton Wright High School graduate was 26 when he collapsed and died during a training run last October at Joint-Base McChord in Washington state.

Zembas remembers her husband as someone who was funny and smart, a devoted fan of the Washington Capitals and New York Giants, and someone who would help anyone.

Conrad is one of six Marylanders who will be honored in a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

Zembas said, “it is pretty incredible” that her husband is being honored in this year’s ceremony, but said she was “shocked” to see her husband’s name listed with those of other fallen soldiers.

“To see that made me emotional. I don’t think I thought about honoring on Memorial Day like this,” Zembas told WBAL NewsRadio.

“In a way, I’m excited, in a way I’m sad. I feel almost every emotion you can probably feel going into this, but mostly honored for me to honor him in this way.”

Zembas said losing her husband has changed the meaning of Memorial Day for her and her family.

“It makes you think about the day, especially very differently. Not just for me and the fact that I lost Dax, but also all of the other families, and all of the other spouses and family members who also honor this day,” Zembas added.

Zembas said that she and her husband were married for just over a year when he died.

Zembas said as she deals with her own grief, she hopes to work with organizations that help other surviving families.

Monday’s ceremony is traditionally one of the largest Memorial Day observances in the state.

Other military members being honored include the following:

• U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, who was 43 when he was killed by a roadside bomb during a convoy near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, in April 2019. He was one of three Marines killed in the bombing. Slutman was a lifetime member of the Kentland Volunteer Fire Department in Prince George’s County and was a firefighter in New York City.

• U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Hugh McDowell, who was 24 when he died during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton, California, in May 2019. McDowell was killed when his Light Armored Vehicle rolled over. He is credited with shouting a warning as the vehicle began to flip, which helped save the lives of six other Marines in the vehicle. McDowell grew up in Chevy Chase and was a former resident of Chestertown.

• Navy Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, who was 23 when he was one of three people shot and killed in a mass shooting at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, in December 2019. Navy officials say the wounded Watson was able to flag down first responders and provide a description of the shooter before he died. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2019 and was training to be a Navy pilot.

• U.S. Marine Corps Major Moises Navas, who was 34 when he was one of two Marines killed in Iraq by enemy forces during the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, in March of last year. He was part of a group of Marines supporting Iraqi security forces in a raid to destroy an Islamic State hideout in a mountainous area near the town of Makhmour. The highly decorated Marine was a special operations officer who grew up in Germantown. 

• Army Sgt. 1st Class David Randolph Hilty, who was 44 when he died in March of last year in a non-combat incident in Iraq. Hilty was from Bowie and was in Erbil supporting the Inherent Resolve mission.

Monday’s ceremony will include remarks from Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs George Owings III and Darold Marin of Halethorpe, whose son, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Xavier Martin, was killed in the 2017 collision between the USS Fitzgerald and a Japanese container ship.  

The ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. It is open to the public but will be streamed online.

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