Denise Gionet of Pelham knows well the true price of the freedom we celebrate on the Fourth of July; her family has paid it.
Sgt. Daniel Gionet, an Army medic, died on June 4, 2006, in Iraq after his vehicle hit a roadside bomb; the critically wounded 23-year-old directed rescuers to tend to others instead of him.
Tomorrow, his mother will watch with pride as Dan's younger sister carries on his mission in historic style.
Alycia Gionet, 24, a Navy helicopter mechanic, will be re-enlisting for six more years. The ceremony will take place aboard the USS Constitution in Boston.
The ceremony is part of the Navy's commemoration this week of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. Nicknamed “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution played a critical role in that conflict and remains the oldest commissioned warship afloat in the world today.
Denise Gionet said her heart is full of pride at the person her daughter has become. It used to be full of worry.
“She was my problem child,” she recalled. “She gave me grief from the time she was 11 till she moved out at 18.”
When Gionet learned that her son had been killed in Iraq, she didn't even know how to reach Alycia. She had to call her daughter's friend with the news.
Alycia “came home that night and never left home again until she went to boot camp,” Gionet said. She finished high school and tried college, but told her mother she “needed to do more.”
“I want to enlist,” she told her.
“My first thought was, I need to know that you're doing this for the right reason,” Gionet recalled. “There's no revenge to be had. Your brother was doing what he wanted and I need to know why you're doing this.”
Picked up mission
But her daughter insisted she wanted to carry on her brother's mission. “That's why she enlisted. He was no longer here to do what he felt he needed to do, and she felt it was her turn to step up to the plate.”
Refused by the Air Force because of a tattoo on her neck “that would have showed above her collar,” Alycia went to a Navy recruiter, Gionet said.
“The Navy said, 'No problem.'”
Alycia Gionet went through boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill., in September, 2007, and then trained as a jet engine mechanic. She recently completed her first detachment, a training mission at sea and is currently assigned to the USS Gravely, a guided-missile destroyer; its home port is Norfolk, Va.
Gionet said she couldn't be prouder of her daughter. “I have seen her go from an undirected, unfocused young woman to confident and proud and assertive and just all those really great qualities that come with being an enlisted service member,” she said.
Tomorrow, the family will board the USS Constitution at 9 a.m. for the ceremony an hour later. “It's going to be an incredible, incredible Fourth of July week,” Gionet said.
Mother and daughter plan to spend Independence Day on the Esplanade, listening to the Boston Pops and watching the fireworks. Another family member will be with them in their hearts.
Dan “would be so incredibly proud” of his sister, who was six years younger than him, Gionet said. She tries to tell Alycia that.
“Every time I see her, she looks at me and she says with tears in her eyes, 'I'm making him proud, right, Mom?' And I look at her and say, 'Baby girl, you are making us all very proud.'”
“She knows how much he worried about her,” she said. “She regrets that he didn't live long enough to see her doing what she's doing. And I just reassure her that he sees everything that she's doing.”
Gionet said she has her own worries about her daughter's future missions. “When she deploys, she will deploy on a ship, so she will be in the ocean, not in the desert. That's a little comforting,” she said. “But then if you think back to the USS Cole, there are still things that can happen.”
“I just have to trust that the good Lord would not do this to me again.”
Her loss also has taught her, she said, “that out of every tragedy comes something good.”
“I lost my son, but I gained my daughter back. I lost my son, but now I have thousands of sons, because they're all brothers in arms.”
Dan always loved the Fourth of July, Gionet recalled. “It's Independence Day. We celebrate freedom. And for my family, we celebrate those that defend that freedom.”
Gionet wants to remind people to remember our veterans on this most American of holidays. “We have a lot to thank them for,” she said.
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Shawne Wickham may be reached at email@example.com.