Honor never dies, as Granite Staters recognize those that sacrificed year round
Lance Cpl. Michael Geary (for Shawne memorial day story)
Those who have given what President Abraham Lincoln called "the last full measure of devotion" are honored throughout the year at special events, including motorcycle rides, charity golf tournaments and bridge dedications.
Bill Geary of Londonderry is Michael Geary's uncle. He said having a bridge named for Michael will make this Memorial Day an especially emotional one for the entire family.
And by the time he was 16, Michael had a black belt in karate and was running 10 miles a day, his uncle said. "He wanted to be the best he could be from the day he arrived at boot camp."
Some of Michael's comrades are coming to New Hampshire to attend Monday's bridge dedication, and on Aug. 10, Bill Geary will lead the third annual "Ride to Boscawen," from the Derry VFW to the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery. The ride raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project, the charity Michael had designated to receive contributions in the event of his death in combat.
Last week, Len Ouellette of Londonderry was at the Boscawen cemetery to decorate the grave of his son, Cpl. Michael Ouellette. The 28-year-old Marine served two tours in Iraq and was killed in Afghanistan on March 22, 2009.
After Michael's death, Ouellette started a charity golf tournament, calling it the New Hampshire Freedom Cup. "Michael was all about 'live free or die,'" he said. "He used to brag about New Hampshire."
"It was my idea that he continue helping his comrades," said Ouellette, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War.
About two years ago, a stranger approached Ouellette, showing him a black wristband bearing Michael's dates of birth and death. The man, an Iraq war veteran, told him he had been so depressed that he was contemplating suicide and had gone to the VA in desperation.
Two of his fellow Marines named children after Michael. And in Helmand province, Afghanistan, United Nations forces are serving at Base Ouellette.
Rhonda and Skip Rollins of Newport started the Ride for the Fallen in honor of their son, Army Spc. Justin Rollins, one of seven paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division killed in Iraq on March 5, 2007.
Participation in the event has grown every year, Rhonda Rollins said. "Just to see all those bikes and all the people riding on that day just makes you feel so good that they're all there for us and for him and all the other fallen soldiers.
Her son was supposed to be a recruiter, but chose to join his men when they deployed to Iraq. "He knew that the chances are that he could not come back, and he was willing to take that chance," she said. "Which I think just makes these guys amazing."
After their son's death, the Rollinses arranged to have the puppy Justin was holding in that last photo shipped home to New Hampshire.
Emerging from the burning home with the unresponsive dog in his arms, firefighter and family friend Dan Brunt asked for permission to take Hero in an ambulance to a veterinary clinic, Rollins said.
Hero was resuscitated in the ambulance. Also saved from the fire were Justin's medals and the flag that draped his casket.
For families such as these, Memorial Day now is laced with both pride and pain.
"We all go along our little everyday lives and forget that these men and women are still putting their lives on the line every day," she said. "I think we need to be reminded."
"I always knew what Memorial Day meant, but I never really understood the depth of it all, going back to the Civil War, and everybody that died . so we could have the freedoms that we have.
Whenever his squad went out on patrol, Michael Geary insisted on walking point, his uncle said.
"He was the only one in his squad that wasn't married and had children. He said, 'If anybody's got to go, let it be me. You've got a wife and kids to go home to.'"
The rest of his squad survived.
. For more on the N.H. Freedom Cup golf tournament honoring Michael Ouellette, go to: www.nhfreedomcup.org. . For more on the Rollins Ride for the Fallen, go to: rollinsride.com.
. A Memorial Day ceremony will be held at the New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery on Route 3 in Boscawen on Friday, May 30, at 11 a.m.
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