Emulating ‘Semper Fidelis’: One Marine’s Merrimack encounter

If you refer to a Marine as a "hero," it will make him or her uncomfortable – appreciative but uncomfortable (they won’t show it because that would be disrespectful) – and they will instinctively let you know that they were just doing their job.

They were and continue to defend the things we all hold dear, which is our families and way of life.

When it comes down to it, when the bullets are flying and you don’t know what is around the next corner, much less what the next day holds, you make peace with potentially never coming home again. A sobering fact.

But one thing you know is that the guy beside you needs to go home, for his kids, his mom and dad, his wife, etc. That understanding is what kept me from being able to speak on July 22 while embracing Tom and Elaine Gibson; their son needed to be home. No one will ever question whether Merrimack’s Tim Gibson did his job or sacrificed enough.

Rewind 24 hours, and a few Fallujah veterans find themselves in a small town high up on the Eastern Seaboard. There are few places and fewer people in this world where a person can instantly feel at home just by simply being in its or their presence; Merrimack clearly and consistently embodies both.

Though my brothers and I from 1st Battalion 3rd Marines only spent a week in Merrimack, I can confidently speak for every one of us when I say that the hospitality demonstrated, friendships formed and respect interchanged was far more than we could have dreamed.

We gathered to reunite, support and empower one another while paying respect to Cpl. Tim Gibson, who was taken from us in battle, and his wonderful family and friends. At no time did we expect the open arms and love of Jennifer DeFelice and her children, Alexandra, Michael and Robert.

On day one, she came in; many of us did not know who she was, and right out of the gate, gave each of us a big hug, looked us in the eyes and said, "You have no clue what is in store for you guys!" She was spot on. We were clueless. The following morning, we piled into the vans and headed down an unfamiliar road to a welcoming and memorial ceremony.

When we arrived at the Gibson Memorial Complex, all fell silent. Emotion overran us, all of us. Looking on, we
observed a sea of people salted among the chairs that filled the grass. Our National Colors were displayed high above the crowd, along with a laddered fire engine in all of its glory.

Tim Gibson’s picture was at the center of it all, displayed in front of a stage and podium. Even the Merrimack Police Department was present with colors. It took my breath away, and I suddenly became nervous. I had never seen anything of the sort.

My nervousness fell away immediately when we walked toward the grandstand and were met with handshakes and even better, hugs. These people didn’t know us. This town had never seen us before, yet I felt like I had known them my whole life. It felt like home.

Undoubtedly, the people are the reasoning for this comfort. So many to mention, starting with the Boy Scouts to Sen. Kelly Ayotte; every bit of it, selflessly coordinated by Jen, who we are proud to call one of our sisters henceforth.

Ron Potter, who graduated from high school and joined the Marines with Tim Gibson, spearheaded this trip and coordinated the Marine’s visit. He said, "Coming home to Merrimack and being able to introduce the Marines that fought with Tim and I to the Gibsons and the community was an experience that we will never forget. Tim and the Gibsons will never be forgotten."

In the Marine Corps, we have a saying, "Semper Fidelis." We use this to affirm with another that we are always there for you. It means "always faithful" in Latin. Believe me when I say that Jen can unquestionably wield that term, as she has obviously lived by it.

All anyone of us can say is:

Thank you. Thank you to all who made our trip to Merrimack just an amazing experience. May God bless the families of Merrimack just as you have blessed so many.

Semper Fidelis!

Here is a list of all groups and individuals who made the 10th annual 1st Battalion 3rd Marine Battle of Fallujah Reunion such a success. It would not have been such an amazing experience for these well-deserving men without you.

Able Ebenezer, Alexandra DeFelice, American Legion, Badger family, BAE Systems Nashua, Becky Campbell and the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund, Becky Thompson from Town Hall, Broadway Bound Performing Arts Center, Budweiser, Carol Miner, Cheryl O’Halloran, Dan Newman, Dave McCray, Depot Farm Stand, Gary Smith, Holly Morales and the Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, Kathryn and Russ Craven, Kathy and Carl Hatfield and Able Crane, Katie, Chris and M.J. Gagnon, head coach Kip Jackson and the Merrimack High School football team, Holiday Inn Express, Jay Graham, Jo-Ann Acosta and Axel’s Restaurant, Joey Medeiros and Joey’s Diner, Laurie Bravaro, Matt Casparius and Merrimack Park and Recreation, Megan and Amy Elwell, Merchant Auto Group, Merrimack Fire Department, Merrimack Flower Shop, Merrimack High School field hockey, Merrimack High School Quarterback Club, Merrimack Public Library, Merrimack Public Works, Michael DeFelice DJ Services, Miss Merrimack Felicia Arsenault, Miss Merrimack’s Outstanding Team – Emma Miner, Miss New Hampshire Caroline Carter, Nancy Harrington, Ortega family, Patrick Cheetum, Paul McCally – Merrimack assistant town manager, Peter Petrigno, Police Chief Mark Doyle, Capt. Peter Albert and the Merrimack Police Department, the Rev. Patricia Henking of Faith Episcopal Church, Robert DeFelice, Rung family, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Smith family, Tony Damata and Vistaprint, Troy Rathke and Crossfit Earned, Uno Restaurant and the VFW.