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A Final Walk Together

A soldier in a white uniform with a little girl next to him

Maria Chamberlain

Today is Memorial Day, and we’re forever thankful to the military servicemen and women who died protecting the United States of America as well as freedoms around the world.

Last year, I wrote a blog mentioning Michael Durant, the Blackhawk pilot from Berlin, NH who was captured and rescued in Mogadishu, Somalia. Before the Somalia incident, Durant flew over 150 medical evacuation missions. Pause for a moment – 150 servicemen needing to be medically evacuated via helicopter. Servicemen with injuries so severe in areas so remote and dangerous that their first chance of survival was dependent upon a pilot’s skill to safely transport them to a hospital. I don’t know how many made it to an operating table, or how many died during the flight, but it’s highly probable that it wasn’t always a successful transfer. For Michael and for the scores of other pilots, those scenes must haunt them. Yet, these resilient men and women continued to serve. Michael trained other pilots and was the first U.S. helicopter pilot to shoot at a SCUD missile launcher during Operation Desert Storm. He retired from the military, settled in Alabama,and became a father,  businessman, and  author.

What I never imagined when I wrote about Chief Warrant Officer Durant last May was that another local hero would make national news. This time a young life was cut too short too soon. On Veteran’s Day 2023, 25-year-old Tanner Grone perished along with four other US Army Aviation Special Forces members. Tanner hailed from Gorham, NH – just two towns away from The Inn at Oxbow Acres. His parents own Scoggins General Store with the iconic moose sculpture out front.  Tanner was well known in the area as an athlete, and he and his sister Emily helped his parents with the business. Everyone in town seemed to know and love Tanner and was very proud when he enlisted and became a crew chief on a Blackhawk gunship. He was often deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, but remained close to his childhood friends and would remotely play video games with them. It was through a mutual friend at the Gorham gym that my own son got to know Tanner and his fun personality. His ambition was to become a pilot, but that dream ended during a November refueling mission in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Josh witnessed the heartbreak and grief of Tanner’s closest buddies. The obituary reads that upon deployment (Tanner) “would call his parents and would tell them. “I’m leaving, can’t tell you where I’m going or for how long, love you. Call when I get back.” But for five young men, there was no coming back. And for their families – there is no forgetting. His mom Erica stated, “We will hold onto the memories we have of our little boy that grew up to be a man and never forget the ultimate sacrifice he made for this country.”

Tragically, another NH native died in a more recent helicopter crash in Pine Valley, California on February 7th, 2024. Captain Jack Casey, USMC of Dover, New Hampshire was a 26-year-old pilot participating in a CH-53E helicopter training exercise. I wrote about those airships in my previous blog because those are the ones innkeeper Brian worked on during his time in the Marine Corps. Today, his young, widowed wife Emma and his large loving family are having a Memorial Day like no other. It is an indescribably tragic day. This bright young man had his whole future ahead of him, but he and his crew died in the line of duty in the prime of life. Captain Casey’s obituary reads, “Jack was an epic human being. He was bright, hilarious, and a light in this world from the moment he was born. He was the youngest of five and learned the precious skill of knowing when to take the high road. His personality was a remarkable combination of drive, ambition, and intelligence, tempered with an incredible sense of fun, humility, kindness, with the unending ability to make any room he was in a happier place. Jack would help you move, plant a garden, build a deck, or smoke a side of beef. He was never too busy to help…anyone.”

The picture featured in this blog is not of Tanner or Jack. It’s a photo of our son-in-law, Richard MacPartland (United States Naval Reserves) and our granddaughter, Eliana. They were up for a quick visit this weekend as Rich was part of a color guard for a graveside service in Upton, Maine. As they strode away, I wondered about the many children, parents, siblings, friends, and spouses who had their last walk together with a loved one; the last memory before receiving the news that their soldier wasn’t coming home ever again.

Dover’s mayor, Bob Carrier, spoke in front of city call just days after the tragic accident, and it’s a fitting quote for Memorial Day as well.

“This touches home for all who live here, and then everywhere else. It should not happen like this. But we have to thank and salute Jack for keeping us out of harm’s way. And he dedicated his life. He knew, I am sure, as most Marines and servicemen (do), knew what the possibilities were. He took that charge and he did what he did.”

The skies are gray and cold in Northern New Hampshire today – reflective of the grief of its citizens. Thousands upon thousands have died over the last 250 years in order to protect us. They all deserve tribute, a moment of silence, a few minutes of prayer. May your Memorial Day be one of gratefulness to our soldiers and joy with your loved ones and friends. Make those wonderful lasting memories!

A soldier in a white uniform being hugged by a little girl

Maria Chamberlain

Oh – and the next time you come to The Inn at Oxbow Acres, stop at Scoggins in Gorham. The Grone’s store has delicious homemade fudge, fun gifts, and unique NH souvenirs. They would love to know that you remembered their son.

 

 

 

 

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