Monument for fallen Marines makes cross-country passage from Vermont quarry to Camp Pendleton memorial site
By Andrea Papagianis
Carved from a granite quarry in central Vermont, a monument dedicated to the fallen 5th Marines in the nation’s Operation Enduring Freedom campaign is en route to its final resting place at Camp Pendleton.
The monument’s 3,000-mile journey from Barre, Vt. began in the early hours Saturday morning.
Members of the local Patriot Guard Riders stood watch as the seven ton granite structure was placed on its carrier—a flat-bed semi-truck—donned with signs bearing images of the monument and 5th Marine insignia, and those of their attached comrades in arms.
And just as they have at many funeral processions—for the nation’s fallen, with American flags flying—leather clad motorcyclists escorted the monument on the first leg of its journey.
“In my 25 years of driving trucks, this has got to be tops,” said Henry Lafreniere, the truck driver seeing the tribute across the nation. “I don’t see where I can do anything to top being part of this journey to California.”
Calling from Walcott, Iowa on Tuesday night, Lafreniere, a Navy veteran, had just met with resident Patriot Guard Riders, as the men of the local branch would lead the next 150 miles to Des Moines on Wednesday morning.
Along the monument’s route, riders have accompanied Lafreniere through Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, parts of Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.
“Some of those names on the monument we escorted across the country,” said Steve McRoberts, regional ride captain with the Southern California Patriot Guard Riders.
McRoberts, who organized riders nationwide to accompany the monument, said state Patriot Guard captains drop everything to make sure they honor the fallen, in any way they can.
“To honor those 89 young men who gave their lives for our freedom, that is what it is all about,” he said.
Riders are slated to lead the way from Omaha, Neb. to Denver, across Utah and into Las Vegas where a large contingent will bring the monument home, to the 5th Marine Regiment’s area—called Camp San Mateo—on the eastern end of Camp Pendleton.
Battalions from the 5th Marine Regiment were deployed to Afghanistan’s Helmand Province—a southwestern region of the country, bordering Pakistan—in August 2011 and returned one year later. Before their homecoming, the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group called upon the regiment’s five adoptive cities—Costa Mesa, Dana Point, Laguna Hills, Rancho Santa Margarita and San Clemente—and their support groups to gather funds for a tribute to the “Fighting Fifth” Marines and members of attached units killed in Afghanistan.
“It gives me chills to see this vision becoming a reality,” said Terry Rifkin, president of the Dana Point 5th Marine Regiment Support Group, while fighting back tears. “To see the Patriot Guard Riders bringing these boys home, in the form of this solemn tribute is really incredibly special.”
After 20 years of coast-to-coast trips, Lafreniere swore to stick close to home. But when the opportunity arose to bring this monument home, he knew it was a load he wanted to carry.
“When I hear about fallen soldiers, Marines or any member of the service, it tears at my heart strings,” Lafreniere said. “It’s more than amazing … Knowing these Marines will be remembered forever and there will be a place for people to remember those who gave their all for what they believed.”
If all goes according to plan, the monument will arrive in Camp Pendleton early Monday, May 20.
The 7-ton granite monument, standing 7 feet high and 8 feet wide, will be placed adjacent to a monument paying tribute to the 221 Marines, from the “Fighting Fifth” who died during Operation Iraqi Freedom combat deployments.
An official dedication ceremony for the Operation Enduring Freedom Monument is scheduled for Thursday, June 6 at 10 a.m., at the 5th Marine Memorial Park on Camp Pendleton. Col. Roger Turner, commanding officer of the 5th Marines, is expected to be joined by gold-star family members of the fallen Marines, for which the monument is dedicated to.
For a full list of those named on the monument, visit www.danapoint5thmarines.com.
You can also track the cross country journey as Lafreniere updates the 5th Marine Regiment Support Group along his route, by visiting the organization’s Facebook page.