SHAMOKIN, Pa. — An empty beer can is a useless beer can in most respects, but not the one held loosely in the hand of Bob Sandri at Independence Fire Company.
He was grinning while he held it out for review. On its side is a dog tag graphic with the name of his late son, U.S. Army Sgt. Matthew J. Sandri. A few words describe his death in a rocket attack a decade ago, along with information on a scholarship fund in his name.
"I just can't wait to taste it. I hope I enjoy it as much I enjoy the idea," Bob Sandri said.
The can is a mock-up for a craft beer from Dog Tag Brewing, a startup company owned by a Marine Corps veteran.
Come mid-April, the cans, suds and all, will be ready to ship to American beer distributors. Printed on the sides will be the names of 12 fallen troops.
Portions of the proceeds from the sale of Dog Tag beer will benefit charities specified by the families of the late military personnel honored on the cans, including the Matthew J. Sandri Memorial Award at Shamokin Area Middle/High School.
Aside from the scholarship, the Sandris don't have a stake in Dog Tag Brewing. There's no financial gain for them.
It was 10 years ago March 20 that 24-year-old Sgt. Sandri was killed while serving as a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne Division. Since then, some who have loved Matt, some who had served with him, some who had simply learned of his sacrifice made certain his name wouldn't be lost to time.
His company's battalion aid stations have been named after him during each deployment since his death, and so is an aid station for the Third Brigade at Fort Bragg, N.C..
A separate state-of-the-art medical training center built at Fort Bragg for the entire 82nd Airborne Division was dedicated in 2008 to Sandri and Lt. Col. Mark D. Taylor, 41, who was also killed in the rocket attack near Fallujah, Iraq.
Bob Sandri was named honorary commander of the 82nd Brigade Support Battalion in response to the Sandri family's continued support of Matt's battalion, including organizing bus trips to Hollywood Casino and Knoebels Amusement Resort for injured veterans being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
The flagpole outside Shamokin City Hall is dedicated both to Matt and fellow Shamokin Area graduate U.S. Army Capt. Robert C. Scheetz Jr., 31, who was killed May 30, 2004, when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device in Musayyib, Iraq.
Most personal of all, seven babies have been named after Matt.
And now his name and others' will be stamped onto the side of a favorite beverage, beer.
Friend of a friend
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Seth Jordan had three back-to-back tours in his 10-year career, two of which were in Afghanistan. He befriended a Shamokin Marine along the way, Phil Farrow. Farrow had grown up in the same neighborhood as Matt, and the two were close friends.
Farrow, Jordan and other Marines had discussed going into the brewing business together after serving in the military. Jordan was the one who stuck to the idea, taking it up on his own, Farrow said.
Farrow likes that Dog Tag Brewing honors military service and believes in the philanthropy behind it. Matt was a perfect candidate to be honored, he thought, and so he put Jordan in touch with Bob Sandri.
Jordan was careful in pitching the idea to families of the fallen, and if they weren't comfortable, he backed off.
"I've been there. I was really compelled to do this company. I lost seven guys from my squadron in a crash. It's very intimate for me," he said recently by phone. "I just wanted to find another way to honor their sacrifice."
Dog Tag Brewing is based in Montana. Minhaus Craft Brewery of Wisconsin has been contracted to use Dog Tag's recipes to brew India Pale Ale and Lager style beers. Production was delayed when the brewery was damaged by fire in November.
Rexam, a global consumer packaging firm, used a new technology, Editions, at its Chicago facility to print the cans. Jordan said Dog Tag is the first brewer to use such technology.
Mom, dad approve
Matt's mother, Annette, was initially apprehensive, but was comfortable after speaking with Jordan. She felt reassured that the stories of the 12 military veterans would be shared — on the can and also online after dogtagbrewing.com goes live. She's particularly impressed by the charitable link.
"How could you not think that it's a great thing?" she said.
All it took for Bob Sandri was that Farrow had vouched for Jordan, but hearing the former Marine's story certainly didn't hurt.
"I feel compelled to support this young Marine because he's served our country with distinction, because he is a friend of one of my son's best friends, and because he's offered to help fund in whatever way possible this scholarship fund that my wife maintains at Shamokin Area High School," he said.
Farrow agrees the fit is a natural given Matt's penchant for a good time. Bob calls it poetry.
"I'm just surprised it's been 10 years. It really feels like it was just yesterday when it happened," Farrow said.
A local distributor hasn't been confirmed, but both Bob Sandri and Jordan are holding out hope Dog Tag Brewing will be available in the greater Shamokin area.
Another Northumberland County soldier may be featured in a second printing of the cans if the family approves: U.S. Army Sgt. Brett D. Swank, who was 21 when he died Jan. 24, 2005, from injuries caused by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad, Iraq.
His younger brother, Jon Swank, who had earned the rank of sergeant himself while with the Army, said he's all for it.
"I think it's a great idea. It's great to see combat veterans putting their combat pay and their lives' work to support fallen soldiers," he said. "It's been years since my brother passed, and it's nice to see that someone is still interested."