Maintaining the memory of a comrade in arms
MANCHESTER --- It was raining pretty steadily in Veterans Memorial Park Friday morning, but the two men wearing camo jackets didn't seem to care, or even notice.
Manchester veterans Mike Murphy and Curt Payne were on a mission.
The pair, who call themselves the "Super Soldiers," were sprucing up a small memorial honoring Lance Cpl. Adam R. Brooks, Murphy's friend and Manchester High School Central classmate.
Brooks was killed on Nov. 28, 2004, after a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Baghdad, Iraq. It was his sixth-month wedding anniversary.
A proud Marine, Brooks was just 20 years old.
It's easy to overlook the small plaque set into the ground beneath a young maple tree, not far from the city's brick World War II memorial. Brooks' mother, Rose Marois, had paid for the granite marker after her son's death.
Over the past nine years, the grass had grown up and litter and cigarette butts sometimes accumulated around it.
Sprucing up the memorial for Brooks, Murphy said, was about "making sure people don't forget about him, making sure people stop and look."
Murphy spent five years in the Army, including a tour in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2007-08 with the 25th Infantry Division. He works for a facilities maintenance company now.
He figures he has volunteered about 30 hours a week with Payne this summer, cleaning up litter and removing graffiti in city parks.
"I love my country," Murphy said. "I love my city. And I hate that people are defacing it."
When Murphy recently noticed the grass and litter obscuring the small memorial plaque placed in Brooks' honor, he contacted his former boss at Giant Landscaping to ask for a little help.
Tony Rahe, Giant's sales manager, said company owners Jeff Lavigne and Tim Boyle agreed at once to contribute bark mulch, flowers and labor to spruce up the site honoring Adam Brooks.
"We thought it was the right thing to do," Rahe said. "We wanted to clean it up a little bit for his mother and put a couple plants around it."
Rose Marois visited the spot after the men were finished working Friday and was thrilled with the results. "I think it's beautiful," she said.
She was touched, she said, to know that her son's friends haven't forgotten him nearly nine years after his death. "Adam knows he's loved," she said. "I know he's looking down."
And Marois said she hopes more people will notice the marker now and stop by, "to acknowledge someone who died for their freedom."
Steven Galloway Jr., who works for Giant Landscaping, said he was happy to help Murphy and Payne. He's the son of a Desert Storm Air Force veteran.
"I'm glad to be here," he said. "It's an honor."
Curt Payne served in the Army from 1997 to 2000. He's been disabled with a brain injury since a car crash on Aug. 29, 2001, that nearly killed him and left him in a coma.
Payne woke up three days after 9/11, to a world forever changed. "If it wasn't for my accident, I guarantee you I would have been first in line to re-enlist," he said.
Peter Capano, chief of parks for the city's Parks, Recreation and Cemeteries Division, said Murphy has done a good job cleaning up litter in some of the city's public places. He noted Manchester has an adopt-a-site program that has gotten folks involved in planting and painting projects in other parks.
Capano stressed that volunteers do need to coordinate with the parks division before they take on any work, to make sure the proper materials are used in any project.
But he said, "We're happy to have help."