Cancer soldier, 13, is welcomed to the Union Army’s 125th Regiment

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Signing on: Liam Flaherty, 13, signs conscription papers to join the Union Army as Richard Talay, playing the part of corporal, at right, steadies the papers and Michael Decker, center, stands watch.

GUILDERLAND — A year ago, Liam Flaherty was riding the school bus with his friend Nat Mussman — both are students at Farnsworth Middle School — when Nat said, “Liam, you have a lump on your neck and you should point that out to your parents.”

Liam did.

“His friend saved his life,” said Liam’s father, Matt Flaherty. “He had a tumor on his thyroid. They did a needle biopsy, then a surgical biopsy.”

Liam had an aggressive form of lymphoma that usually isn’t diagnosed until it has progressed to the stomach, causing pain. “Because we caught it early, the cure rate is in the high 80s percentile,” said Mr. Flaherty.

Aggressive treatment ensued. “Albany Med, where he was treated, didn’t give us time to think — bing, bang, boom: surgery, chemo, a whirlwind.”

But now the family — father Matt, mother Stephanie and 16-year-old brother Malachi — has time to breathe.

“You realize you don’t have anything if you don’t have your health first,” said Mr. Flaherty of the experience. Now Liam is cancer-free.

“We didn’t get to reflect on anything until the treatments ended,” Mr. Flaherty said.

But it’s hard now, too. “Not having the next thing almost causes more anxiety. You worry if it’s going to come back,” he said off the cancer.

 

The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
Mustering: The 125th Regiment stands at attention as Ted Shuart, portraying the regiment’s captain, inspects weapons and Liam Flaherty, newly recruited, stands behind him.

 

The family got a respite from their worries on Saturday. Two women from the Make-A-Wish Foundation had come to the Flahertys’ Altamont home to talk to Liam and see what his interests are.

“Liam is very shy,” said his father. “They really dug deep.”

At 13, Liam is a quiet, thoughtful young man. But he opened up when he started talking to the women about his interest in history, particularly military history.

“He’s always reading and looking at historical videos,” said his father. At the Heldeberg Workshop, Liam has been part of war camp re-enactments for the Revolutionary War, the French and Indian War, and the Civil War.

So a plan was hatched, unbeknownst to Liam. Since he missed the fourth quarter of seventh grade — he started eighth grade in September — Liam gets tutored in French and math at the Guilderland Public Library every Wednesday evening and every Saturday morning.

This past Saturday, two young men dressed as Union soldiers from the 125th Regiment — Dan Curry and Michael Decker —  stood outside the door of the room where Liam was being tutored. When he emerged, a look of surprise crossed his face.

“He doesn’t like surprises and he doesn’t like being the center of attention,” said his father, but Liam enjoyed Saturday’s surprise.

“The 125th Regiment was awesome,” said his father. “He knew the two young men from the Civil War camp at Heldeberg Workshop.”

Decker and Curry — with white-gloved hands smartly holding rifles — ceremoniously escorted Liam out of the library where the entire regiment waited in formation along with some women wearing bonnets and long dresses with bell-shaped skirts.

Liam was read his conscription papers and signed on with a feather pen.

“They gave him the hoorah. It gives me goosebumps to think of it,” said his father.

Then Liam’s mother and father helped him into his union jacket — navy blue with brass buttons. He was also issued trousers, a hat, and boots — all appropriate for the era. “One member gave him a signed book he had written,” said Mr. Flaherty. “It was very special, very unique.”

 

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
All for one: Liam Flaherty, front and center, joins the ranks of the 125th Regiment of the Union Army.

 

There is more to come. The Flaherty family, compliments of Make-A-Wish, will all fly to Washington, D.C. on July 3 in time for the fireworks. They will visit military museums and monuments in D.C. before traveling to Gettysburg for a re-enactment there.

Liam said he’d rather watch the re-enactment at Gettysburg than participate in it himself. Liam said it would be “too loud,” his father said.

But he has already fought his own battle. He has no need to pretend.

After surgery, Liam went through four grueling cycles of chemotherapy — a week in the hospital and then two weeks home, a week in the hospital then two weeks at home, again and again. “During each cycle, he had to get two or three spinal taps,” said his father. Liam was given a drug to help with the pain.

“He asked the doctors not to give it to him. It made him see double and feel not like himself. So he took the spinal taps without any pain medicine.”

After a moment of silence, his father continued, “He grew up overnight. He has become a mature young man.”

Mr. Flaherty said his family is grateful for Liam’s health and for the treatment he received at Albany Med’s Melodies Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders.

“So many people have opened their hearts to us. We are so thankful,” Mr. Flaherty said. “We’ve learned not to ever, ever take for granted the little things.”

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