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Remembering a hero


This is Corporal Brian St. Germain, USMC.

He grew up in West Warwick, Rhode Island. He was an honor student and all-state hurdler in high school, and decided to enlist in the Marine Corps after 9/11.

He was well-liked in his unit, the 1st Marine Logistics Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Camp Pendleton. He was promoted to Corporal during his first tour of duty in Iraq.

He worked as a heavy equipment mechanic and martial arts instructor in the Corps, and he always volunteered for the more dangerous duty because, as he said, there are so many Marines with wives and kids, if I could spare someone from losing their father, I was willing to do that.

Cpl. St. Germain was serving his second tour in Iraq on April 2 when the seven-ton truck he was riding in rolled over in a flash flood near Asad, Iraq. He and five other Marines were killed. He was 22.

I was at his funeral today. As you know, I am the Connecticut State Captain for the Patriot Guard Riders.

I woke up this morning at 5AM and drove to West Warwick to meet the Rhode Island State Captain and the Riders from the area.

About 50 Riders showed up. They are all just regular guys and gals. There were Vin and Art, a Marine and Army Captain who served multiple tours in Viet Nam. There was Wendy, a Mom and professional person. Then there was Fred, an engineer from Connecticut, and Ed, the State Captain who served as an Army Commo officer. There was a professional driver, a federal law enforcement officer, a computer programmer and a hauler with his own dump truck. They came from Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut to honor Cpl. St. Germain.

I got to the church first and decided where we were going to set up. I chose the main road in front of the church. The rest of the group was about 15 minutes behind me. I was standing there waiting when I heard the first rumble, and 50 motorcycles came over the hill. Most had American flags flying from the back bars, some huge and some smaller.

It’s was quite a sight coming over that hill, and I got a lump in my throat just looking at them. We lined up on both sides of the road and waited. War stories were flying, motorcycle yarns were spun and everyone got to know each other a little better.

“Here they come!” someone shouted, and everyone scrambled to get next to their motorcycle. It was an amazing sight — a row of 25 bikes on each side of the road, with us regular folks, the kind of people the Cpl. Brian St. Germain grew up with and talked to every day, paid our respects to an American hero. The flags were unfurled and were waving majestically in the wind, the military guys snapped to attention, and the rest of us did our best to put some semblance of military precision in the way we stood.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Vin the Marine snap a crisp salute as the USMC Flag passed by with the honor guard. Then all of the people standing at attention, military and civilan, computer programmer and Captain, saluted Cpl. St. Germain. We held those salutes for the entire procession — Governors, Senators, Cpl. St. Germain’s family, and the rest of the procession. I will never, ever forget the way one of the vets stood there perfectly at attention holding that flag, motorcycle vest flapping just a little in the wind, skullcap looking like it might fly off, while a single tear appeared from under his sunglasses and streamed down his face. It moved me to tears.

When the procession finally passed by, no one spoke or moved for several minutes. All I heard were the flags flapping in the wind and the rush of cars going by. It seemed like slow motion.

I’ve never met Brian St. Germain, but he’s my hero. He’s one of the ordinary guys who put his life on the line for me after 9/11. I am honored to have been at his funeral, and I am honored that I could pay my respects the way I did.

We didn’t go into the church (that’s not what we were there for), and we fell in at the back of the funeral procession as it wound its way through several Rhode Island towns. I was behind the motorcycles, and the last car, a Rhode Island State Trooper with his lights flashing, was behind me marking the end of the procession.

I was deeply moved by the outpouring of affection I saw along the procession route. Every single Law Enforcement Officer (and there had to be thirty or fourty blocking off the streets with amazing efficiency) was at attention or in parade rest as the procession went by, and some even saluted.

People walking their dogs, working in their gardens, walking along the street or sitting on the steps of their office building eating their lunch stopped for just a moment to watch the procession pass by. Two children (5 or 6 years old) were standing on the side of the road as we passed by, saluting Cpl. St. Germain.

At the firehouse in downtown West Warwick (Warwick maybe?) both firetrucks were outside with their lights flashing, and all of the fireman were wearing their dress uniforms and standing at attention. One was holding the Rhode Island flag.

People were out of their cars on the side of the road, and some were gathered in groups as we passed by.

I would imagine that a lot of people’s lives were disrupted that day, as they had to stop to let 200 cars pass by. I think they had an opportunity to reflect on the life of Brian St. Germain and I hope that they took a moment to honor him as the procession passed by.

Many people throw around words and phrases like making the ultimate sacrifice or laying down your life for your country, but those words are seared into your heart when your life touches in some infinitesimal way someone who actually did.

So as those cars passed by, I hope the people of West Warwick, Warwick, Exeter and all the other towns we passed by took a moment to consider and honor the life of their hometown hero.

I didn’t go up the hill at the Veteran’s Cemetery. I hung back for a few minutes and talked with some of the guys who had attended too many of these funerals and didn’t want to walk up that hill again.

I thought about Brian St. Germain as I turned to get in the car. He was a tough guy — I can tell by his picture. He liked to fix things, and he liked to shoot things. An all-American American kid. Instead of working on his old car or shooting cans on the back fence he was buried in the Veteran’s cemetery because he was compelled to serve his country (which means US) in the Marines.

I heard the honor guard firing their salutes, and I heard the first few notes of Taps. I turned toward the huge group of people gathered at the gravesite and saluted our hero one more time. The few stragglers still talking saw me and snapped to attention as well.

God Bless Brian St. Germain and may he rest peacefully. Please say a prayer for the other Cpl. St. Germains still in harm’s way in Iraq and Afganistan. May God keep them safe and return them home to us.

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